It had been raining for days.
At first, it was cozy, playing games, watching movies, eating popcorn and drinking hot cocoa. But then, the humidity seeped into every corner of the house making it feel warmer than it was and we were ALL cranky. Including me.
Cabin fever had arrived.
So, I pulled out the rainboots, umbrellas, and jackets — got everything on all of us and by the time I was done, I was sweaty and more cranky. Finally, we stepped outside and instantly, I felt my mood lighten.
The sky was so much brighter outside, even though it was dark with rain clouds. I felt the tension melt away as I looked up into that overcast sky.
The air was fresher and cooler and the kids were entertained– and I saw their moods instantly lighten as well.
There really is one instant fix for crankiness, cabin fever, a bad morning, a child who is stuck in tantrum land, a baby who is teething and cranky, simply…
Step Outside into Nature.
Why? Research supports this idea that our moods changes, even our brains change when we are in nature. When nothing else worked to calm my son when he was a baby and fussing, stepping outside would always help. Even if it was in the middle of the night.
How Being in Nature Boosts Your Child’s Development
1. Being in Nature Calms the Mind
Children with ADHD show milder symptoms when spending time in green spaces — spaces with plenty of green grass and trees.
Maybe it’s that open sky that helps reduce over-stimulation.
Studies have found that when people walked in a green space that activity in the areas of the brain associated with alertness, conscious processing of information and frustration lessened, while areas of the brain associated with relaxed alertness, daydreaming, and meditative states increased.
Something about being under that open sky helps you transcend the daily grind and lift your mood. Engaging Alpha waves in your brain and lessening overstimulation.
2. Spending Time in Nature Makes You Feel Good (especially stay at home moms!!)
A series of studies showed that being outside can increase a person’s psychological and physical energy– make people feel more alive.
Studies have also found improvement in mental well-being after people move to a greener area — effects that were still true three to five years after their move.
The more green space in an area, the lower the populations’ symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Studies have also found that these kinds of effects are even stronger for stay at home moms. Why? I am not sure — but perhaps it is because it has a double effect. Being outside not only lifts our moods but our children’s as well. When the kids are having fun, our daily grind is not only easier but also more enjoyable.
3. Nature Enhances Learning
I notice a change in my son after we get on a nature walk near our house. It takes a few minutes, but I notice his mood lighten and brighten.
But something else happens too — he starts to play in ways that I don’t see him do in other environments.
He whacks a stick on a tree, absorbed by the sound and then throws it into the water. Noticing the ripples, he throws another stick. Then a stone.
He starts throwing them softer and harder — experimenting and exploring — most of the time without saying a word.
He is simply immersed in nature — connected to nature in a way that seems like it has always been that way with children and the natural world. That sense of wonder and creativity can be lost on kids in multi-media and technologically rich environments.
Researchers have found that nature soothes our brains which are constantly overstimulated by technology. After four days spent hiking in nature, creativity and performance on a difficult problem-solving task increased by 50%!
Being in nature helps to reset the mind and engage it differently. One study found that children’s cognitive development was boosted the ore time they spent in green space at school.
4. Nature Boosts Well-Being and Kindness
Spending time in nature boosts self-esteem, mood, and relaxes your cognitive intensity. Perhaps all of this de-stressing leads one to be kind and generous.
When exposed to more beautiful pictures of landscapes or beautiful indoor plants, participants were more trusting, generous and helpful.
Stepping outside is more than an instant fix for a bad day. It will do that and more. One study showed that spending even 5-minutes outside will improve mood. No excuses. When you are done reading this, simply step outside and soak up all that nature.
How to Do It: Tips for Nature Walks with Kids
1. Let Them Lead
Go to a park with a trail that isn’t next to roads or other dangers and let your child be the leader. Be sure to only do this on trails you are familiar and you know there are no drops or dangerous areas. A short, family friendly meandering trail in a safe area is a perfect time to let your child lead.
It’s not often that they get to be the leader and this will empower them and heighten their engagement on the trails.
Let them set the pace and also when to stop and observe. They’ll point out things that you would have never have seen on your own (kids have that super-power). And they will be learning and engaging other parts of their brains.
2. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
If it’s a fall hike, search for all different color leaves. In the Spring, spot butterflies, and birds. Sometimes scavenger hunts can be to collect things for your nature tray at home. Other times, it can be simply observing. Other times it can be simply listening for sounds of nature. Look for local programs like Kids in Parks, that provide maps of kid-friendly hikes and also scavenger hunts and other activities designed for that specific hike.
3. Bring a Nature Observation Tool
Bringing along a magnifying glass, binoculars, or a camera can make kids really excited to go on a hike. Often at nature centers and local libraries, you can find free nature backpacks filled with interesting tools for observing nature. Our favorite observation tool when we will be by water is our Beach Aquarium — we catch small fish and crabs, watch them swim and release them. The Bugnoculars are a close second.
4. Make Nature Art
Bring along some play -dough and explore how you can make different patterns on the bark of trees. Or, put some tape around your child’s wrist with the sticky part facing out and they can pick up leaves and flowers and make a nature bracelet along with the hike. Bring along a crayon and some paper and make leaf impressions. Here are 33 more ideas.
6. Go Outside in All Weather
As my Swedish Mother-in-Law always says, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Here in the U.S., it is far less common to buy rain pants. In Sweden, all children have these — they play outside come rain or snow!! Puddle-hunting is a family favorite around here.