We all want it. That deep assurance that “today I truly connected with my child”. That knowing smile between mother and child; the shared experience carved deep in our hearts and minds. It can be so elusive in our distraction-filled world. But I have found a secret to making those moments happen more often – even daily. The secret is so simple, requires no money and actually very little time. The secret is simply exploring nature together.
Nature is Your Ally
I can feel you slumping down, maybe even thinking, “Oh great. One more thing to add to my to-do list. Another thing to feel stressed and guilty about.” And believe me, I get it! We, as mothers in the 21st century, have so many things pulling at us! Finding time for “the simpler things” can seem like anything but simple.
But, what if I could promise you that spending just 30 minutes a few days a week in your own backyard or neighborhood could give you more of what you are longing for? More in the areas of happiness, peace, and rest? What if that promise included better mental and physical health for both you and your child? Do you think you could fit it in? Could you make it a priority?
I have found that the natural world isn’t just another burden. Nature is a powerful ally in making every member of my family (including myself) feel happier and closer to one another.
Here is what you have to gain:
Your Child Will Be More Emotionally Available- So Will You
Because our homes are filled with distractions: Computers, phones, iPads, meals to prepare, chores begging to be done, and on and on – we have a natural tendency (really a need) to multi-task. That is just how it is in our modern world.
Unfortunately, stopping and tuning out all of the distractions and truly connecting with our kids has a way of never making it on the list. It’s too easy to check into Instagram while Johnny reads. Or, send a time-sensitive text while Suzie shares for the fourteenth time about her favorite stuffed kitten. Many times we are in separate rooms, looking at separate screens. We are feeding our emotional needs through electronics rather than with each other.
But just taking a few steps with our children into the backyard, nearby park, or neighborhood eliminates those distractions making it so much easier (even instinctive) to be there emotionally.
Of course, you can make these moments happen inside, but it is much harder. There is just something about breathing in fresh air and feeling a soft breeze on your face that creates a peace and a bond that is hard to emulate indoors. A clarity of mind comes and a refocus happens when we leave all of the inside distractions behind and allow ourselves soak in the natural world around us.
Your Child Will Become More Confident – So Will You
The way kids interact with nature is pretty awesome to watch. Because there are no real rules, kids soon find a confidence that normal, inside parameters just don’t allow. Nature provides loose parts – providing infinite ways to play and use their own ingenuity to create and build. Playing outside increases both physical and mental confidence.
As you open your own eyes to nature, you will remember who you are. You will feel a peaceful confidence fall upon you as you re-discover the bounty of beauty that God has given to you. You will remember that every plant and every creature is unique and offers something different to this world – including you.
Your Child Will Become More Creative – So Will You
I have found that for me, nature and creativity go hand in hand. When I’m feeling stuck or frustrated in a project, just a few minutes of fresh air and nature walking brings a new perspective and lots of inspiration.
When we make the time to unplug from all of the distractions at home (and put away the phone), we are letting our brains rest. In 2012, a ground-breaking study found that after only four days of immersion in nature, a group of hikers tested a 50% improvement in their cognitive functions related to creativity and problem-solving.
The theory is that the more we bury ourselves in technology, ignoring the natural world around us, the more damage we are doing to our brains. According to the study, exposure to natural stimuli creates a so-called ‘soft-fascination’ effect. This enables the mind to more easily access an introspective, thoughtful state, and allow imagination to do its magic. The parts of our brain that are active during this ‘restful introspection’ are those that are needed for efficient performance on tasks requiring insight, problem-solving, and creative reasoning.
Your Child Will Become Happier – So Will You
There are so many studies proving a real connection between nature and happiness. This one, in particular, caught my eye: The mental health organization, MIND, published a study that found depression was reduced in 71% of participants after taking a walk in nature. When compared to walking around a shopping center where 22% of participants were more depressed than before the walk. 94% of the participants said that nature walks benefited their mental health. Some of their comments included:
“I feel better about myself and have a greater sense of achievement.”
“I am more relaxed and have a better focus of mind, greater coordination, and greater self-esteem.”
“I feel as though I can do things without being tired. I am more active, I want to join in things and my body is looser and more agile.”
Anecdotally, I have found over and over again that in our family, when annoyance levels are high and patience is low, a quick walk outside or impromptu nature study changes everything – for both parents and children. From a fussy baby to a tired mom – like magic, nature delivers.
Martha Farrell Erickson, developmental psychologist and founding director of Minnesota’s Children, Youth and Family Consortium confirms, “By following a prescription for more nature experience together, families will discover a win/win situation in which both children and adults benefit as individuals, even as they are strengthening those important family bonds that all children (and adults) need.”
How To Make Nature Time Happen
We do a lot of different things over here to get our nature time in. Here are some things that have worked for us:
Sit Spot – Pick a spot in your yard where you can sit comfortably and enjoy nature. If you want, you can record what you see and how it changes through the seasons. The kids and I each have our own Sit Spot. I purchased some cheap carpet rugs that we sit on. The kids love that they each have their own little rug. It makes the activity feel special while keeping mud and dirt off. It also helps them stay in their spot and actually focus on the nature around them.
Go For a Walk – Easy and effective. I try to remember to look around and notice the natural world around us and model curiosity. Now that the kids are a bit older, I often times just take one kid with me at a time. They love this and I love to see them shine with all of that one-on-one attention.
Get a Macro lens for Your Phone– This is a fun one. I bought mine from Amazon. Just connect it to your phone and experience nature up close. It is such a fun activity to do with the kids and really makes us appreciate all of the amazing patterns and details nature has to offer!
Start a Nature Journal – The artist in me longs for time to draw and paint but it’s hard to fit it in. I’ve found that Nature is the best muse so I schedule a time once a week to “Nature Journal”. I did a post about it here.
A Few Things To Remember
The website Childrenandnature.org gives some great tips for success:
It’s about being there, not getting there. You may be itching to get your daily steps in by taking a nice long walk, but your child may decide he’s happiest finding a place to settle down and play by the closest tree. Follow his lead to prolong the joy.
Nature is everywhere. You don’t have to venture into a wild preserve to observe nature. You can reap the benefits of time outdoors by sketching the tree across the street, hanging a bird feeder outside of your window or even planting a mini-garden on your apartment step.
Be prepared. Ranulph Fiennes said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Make sure to dress appropriately! I’ve also found that a little snack and a water bottle is always a good idea – even if we are only out for a half hour.
Embrace the elements. Who says you can’t have a great time outdoors on a rainy or cold day? Dress right, have a silly adventure, you’ll be calmer and more content when you come back indoors – guaranteed.
Model curiosity. If you see plants or animals or holes or nests that you can’t identify – don’t worry and don’t pretend you have all of the answers. Express your curiosity and follow your kids’ innate wonder. Let them be the experts – you can always look things up together when you get home.
Create Stories. At the end of the day, invite your kids to talk about their favorite part of your time outdoors. Revisit places you’ve been and retell stories of what you did. In so doing, you’ll be developing your family lore and supporting the wonderful connections you’ve built together outdoors in nature.
Nature is our ally – just waiting for us to take advantage of all it has to offer. Let it help you connect, feel more inner confidence, find more creativity and deeper joy. It’s one of those awesome things in life that only requires a small investment but, pays in huge dividends.
I hope this post has been helpful. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What are your experiences in nature? Have you already discovered this for yourself? What are your challenges or setbacks in getting out into nature?