7 Simple ways to help your family rediscover nature

It took you a while to get your child dressed and fed in the morning, but you are finally ready to go, and if you hurry just a little, you will make it on time for the puppet show at the library.

Your child, however, seems to be in no rush to get there. They want to look at the flowers from your neighbour’s garden for the fifteenth time this week, pick a slug up and ask it all kinds of questions (and you forgot the disinfecting wipes), and catch every puddle on the way, not just to splash around in it, but to figure out how the sky is inside that puddle, as well as above.

Your level of frustration rises. You explain to your child hurriedly that what they see in the puddle is called a reflection, and gently tug them along, hoping to at least catch the end of the show.

You try so hard to be a great parent and organize learning activities, and it seems impossible to make it all happen smoothly. Why is it so difficult to get from point A to point B with a young child?

The answer is simple: for your child, everything is point B. They are in no rush to get anywhere, because where they are at that moment is exactly where they feel they should be. As adults, we have forgotten to live in the moment, and to truly take in the world around us. For efficiency’s sake, we are planning dinner on the way to the grocery store, we are texting work during story time, reviewing our e-mail while our child is breastfeeding, and saving time anywhere we can.

Over the years, we teach our children to be efficient like us, but with this great time-saving lifestyle, we are robbing ourselves and our children of the amazing experience of being present, of discovering the world around us, and feeling its incredible energy. Our mind is constantly thinking, and we have lost touch with ourselves. This way of life erodes our health and has devastating effects in our children. The solution? Focus on the now, be present. And the easiest and best way to do that is to spend time in nature.

Nature is the perfect environment for children to feel happy. Spending time outside, surrounded by trees, plants, water, flowers, birds, and fresh, clean air, not only improves their immune system, it also significantly reduces stress, inspires creativity, brings peace of mind, and significantly improves school performance at every age.

Although organized activities like the ones at your local library are important, your child is learning just as much on the way there as when they have arrived. In the early years especially, children’s learning experiences take place during these moments. They learn a great deal from jumping in a puddle and figuring out why their boots are suddenly filled with water (much to your chagrin), or from trying to catch a bird before it flies away, or even (sigh) putting both hands in the mud and feeling how squishy and cool it is. A worm or two offer hours of delight and seeing a leaf fall from a tree in a marvelous dance sends your child twirling and squealing with bliss.

It is essential for your child’s heath (and yours), that they spend time outdoors, surrounded by nature at least fifteen minutes every day. It does not have to be an elaborate outing, in fact, the simpler, the better – here are 7 simple ways to help your family rediscover nature.

1. Go for A Walk with No End in Mind

Make it a habit to go for a walk as a family every day for at least fifteen minutes. Don’t think of going to the park, or to the store, just enjoy the walk itself. Younger children will find plenty of entertainment along the way – take the time to listen to them, and ask them open questions, like “I wonder where the rain comes from” or “I wonder where ladybugs sleep”. Don’t rush in with the answer, let your child think about it, and figure it out together. You can bring a little notebook to write down all the questions you came up with and research the answers once you get home.

2. Go for A Family Bike Ride

The wonderful thing about a bike ride is that it helps you spend time as a family, but also allows for time alone. Because it is not always easy to carry a conversation, we each have some time to enjoy silence as well. Having a quiet mind is just as important as having an active one. In fact, research shows that quieting our mind (thinking about nothing) enhances our ability to think and problem-solve when we need it. Bike rides are especially great when children are going through a difficult time, or through adolescence, and need more than ever a connection to both nature and their family.

3. Find Nature Around Your Neighborhood

In Vancouver, we are very fortunate to live in a province where nature is all around us. We can go for hikes, walk along the ocean, or even enjoy nature right in our backyards. If you can, choose a place to live where you are surrounded by nature. If you prefer the city lifestyle, find the areas around your neighborhood where your child can be surrounded by green space, climb trees, have picnics, build forts, observe animals in their natural habitat, or dip their feet in the water.

4. Bring Nature to Your Home

When outside, you can collect insects in small aerated jars or aquariums and build a natural habitat for them at home for a few days. Observe how they live, what they like to eat, and how to care for them. Caterpillars, ants, worms and snails are wonderful to observe! You can also bring flowers and plants inside (with roots), care for them and observe how they grow. Edible plants, like mint, or roots, like carrots, are a wonderful opportunity to teach your child where food comes from and how to grow it.

5. Plant A Garden or A Tree

You can plant a small edible garden at your home, or even a fruit tree, and teach your family to care for it. It is incredibly rewarding for your children to grow their own fruits and vegetables and be able to share them at mealtime with their family. If you do not have the space, there are plenty of community gardens where you can do the same, or you can have something smaller at home, like an herb garden. Flowers are also incredible to watch and nurture. If you pick a flower outside, show your child how the flower keeps drinking water by adding a few drops of food coloring to the water, and watching as the flower turns that color!

6. Add Natural Elements to Your Child’s Play Space

Ensure your child’s outdoor space at home and at school has rocks, branches of all sizes, water, sand, plants, trees, and other natural elements for your child to play with and build with.

7. Get A Family Pet

Nothing teaches children empathy better than having the opportunity to care for a pet. A dog will ensure that your family goes for walks at least twice daily and is eager to give and receive love. If you are not quite ready for that commitment, there are plenty of other options – from cats to caterpillars – that will do the trick. Make sure that your family learns how to care for your new pet before taking one in to ensure you are capable to give the pet the proper care that is needed for a good quality of life.

The benefits of spending time in nature each day are life-long, not only for your child, but also for you. Research shows that spending time in nature decreases depression, anxiety and fatigue, and increases the ability to focus, as well as improve creative thinking and clarity of mind. Next time you are going somewhere, leave a few minutes earlier and take the time to enjoy the journey. Your child will be delighted, and you will welcome this peaceful change of pace.

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