In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace. Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life.– Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
Nature is a healer, a soother, a calmer of the mind. Study after study has shown that nature reduces stress hormone levels in children and adults alike. Some of the most important findings of these studies have centered around the opportunities that nature provides for creativity, problem-solving, STEM education, and the development of inquisitive minds. Sadly, the rise of ubiquitous technology means that kids aren’t getting quite as much time outdoors as they need. In the US, for instance, the average child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a screen, but just four to seven minutes on unstructured play outdoors. More than half of all kids in the UK, meanwhile, have never climbed a tree. Even if you have just a few moments spare per day or week, you can make nature a bigger part of your kids’ lives. Below are three simple, budget-friendly ways to do so.
Growing a Home Garden
Children benefit greatly from watching a plant grow from a seed or root into delicious fruits or vegetables. And there are a myriad of clever ideas for growing a low-cost outdoor garden or even an indoor haven! Even if you have a tiny garden, you can easily grow produce such as tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, kale, spinach, peas, and a myriad of berries! If you don’t have a grassy area, you can simply buy containers or raised beds and grow a bountiful garden. If you don’t have an outdoor space, you can still grow flowers and produce in a garden window or a window box. Easy, cheap indoor produce to grow are sprouts. From mung beans to chia, alfalfa to broccoli, all you need is to soak your chosen seeds, rinse and drain them, and arrange them on a shallow tray or container with drainage. Keep your sprouts moist while avoiding water logging, and place them in a place with indirect sunlight. Once your sprouts have grown to your desired size, usually within three to seven days, you can harvest them by cutting them just above the roots. Rinse them well and add them to your favorite dishes!
Take a Forest Bath
Have you ever heard of forest bathing? It’s a huge trend that began in Japan, and it has been found in a myriad of studies to have powerful benefits for human health. Specifically, studies have shown that simply viewing or walking through natural landscapes leads to physical benefits such as a reduced sensory pain response, an immunity boost, lower cholesterol, a lower heart rate, and a reduced risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. One of the best things about taking a forest bath is how easy it is! All you need to do is visit a green zone (ideally a forest) and invite your kids to open their senses to the surrounding wonder. Give them gentle guidance. Invite them to listen to the leaves crackle beneath their feet and the sound of birds and other wildlife. Ask them to gently touch leaves, trees, and shrubs. Get close to the myriad of fragrances in plants and trees, and if you forage for berries, try out a few delicious natural treats!
Enjoy Outdoor Adventures
When you have green time together, especially over the weekend, plan outdoor adventures such as wild swimming, trekking, and even camping! Encourage kids to climb sturdy trees, teaching them proper technique first. Studies have shown that low-risk activities such as tree climbing can boost a host of useful abilities and skills in teens. These include problem-solving, creative skills, and resilience. If you have a garden, aim to spend more time outside. Make your outdoor space more attractive to your kids by fitting the area with an outdoor play gym, swings, benches, and (if you have space) an outdoor playhouse for little ones.
Nature is a healer. It can boost the mood, calm down frazzled nerves, and make a perfect setting in which to get rid of stress. Currently, children simply aren’t enjoying as much time in green and blue settings as science indicates they should. The good news is that just ten minutes of green time will make a big difference in their lives—and you can make it happen!