April 22 is Earth Day, a mindful pause to acknowledge the splendor, importance, and delight of our gorgeous life-giving home.
As I write you, I’m in the misty rain of Yosemite, with Yosemite Falls, soaring granite mountains, and tall pines in my vision. It’s a site to behold and one I wish I could absorb on a weekly basis.
There are nature delights in my backyard, too, as I’m sure there are in yours, and I’m musing on how my family can seek them out on the regular to keep our souls and bodies happy when we can’t access such spectacular sights.
I’m in the middle of a great book called Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and more Creative (Amazon link), by Florence Williams, that’s giving me some insight into the power nature holds over us, and why it’s so vital to our happiness.
But how can we do this if we live in a city or town without too much nature nearby? And how does this apply to kids?
Tips from Nature Fix
In the book, Qing Li, immunologist at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School and Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, shares research proving that evergreen scents are like a miracle drug for good health, and that he uses “a humidifier with cypress oil almost every night in the winter!”
When Williams presses him for more healthy living recommendations, he says, “If you have time for a vacation, don’t go to the city. Go to a natural area. Try to go one weekend a month. Visit a park at least once a week. Gardening is good. On urban walks, try to walk under tress, not across fields. Go to a quiet place. Near water is also good.” (p.30)
My girls had different spring breaks this year. Last week I took one of them to Los Angeles and Seattle (missing the boat on the natural area vacation, but we did make an effort to ferry over to Bainbridge Island for a relaxing day of trees and sea) and this week my little one and I are in a national park, so I can check this off on my mental list, and will have to be mindful about getting the whole family out into nature on our next adventure.
Getting back to our home-base, I’m now thinking about how our family can infuse our days with more nature. I’ve been taking weekly walks on the beach, but this is while my kids are in school and I’m not bringing them along. When they were younger we spent plenty of days at tide pools and running down trails, but this seems to get harder as they get older and their schedules fill up with sports, activities, and time with friends.
With Li’s advice in mind, here’s what I want to do to spend more time in nature and boost our family’s health and well-being.
How we can Boost Health and Well-being in Nature
- Walk to our nearby park every day. Stop to smell the trees.
- Take a weekly family walk in the woods. We’re lucky to have trails within 20 minutes of our home. My kids generally balk at the idea of a hike, but I think if I frame it for them as being good for their health and souls they’ll at least give it a try. We’ll bring snacks, cameras, and sketchbooks to ease into it, and the ritual will become simpler over time.
- When a woods walk isn’t possible, walk to the park near our home with plenty of trees. No car necessary. To make it fun, do a night walk with flashlights.
- Take vacations in natural places, and side-trip to natural places when it’s not possible. With family in Los Angeles, I’ll have to make an extra effort on those trips when I can. Involve the kids in choosing the destination so there’s buy-in.
If you have young kids, I’d like to offer you some of my favorite tips for getting outdoors.
Favorite Tips for Helping Kids Enjoy Nature Walks
- Kids love scavenger hunts and challenges. Give them something to find and their attention lingers. I’m gifting you a spring (and fall) scavenger hunts today, if you’d like to try that one out. Scroll to the end of this post for the download.
- Go on a rainbow (photo) scavenger hunt. Find things along your walk that represent different colors of the rainbow. This works well in the late spring or summer where you’ll see lots of flowers blooming, or in urban parks where you’ll see more signage an objects in different colors.
- Bring small sketchbooks and pencils to document what you see. This one is still a hit with my 11-year old who carried a journal on our waterfall hike yesterday, and stopped for 5 minutes to draw details of an uprooted tree.
- Give your child a small “discovery backpack” to carry the sketchbook, pencil, colored pencils, magnifying glass, snack, baggy/clear box if they want to collect soil or leaves.
- Collect things on your outing that connect with art-making at home: take photos of flowers or mountains that can inspire paintings, pick up leaves to color with tempera paint sticks, collect sticks to turn into magic wands or fairy houses. If you’re a Schoolhouse member, there are 50+ nature-based and inspired activities in your hub to explore. Not a member? Join us here if we’re open for enrollment, or please add your name to the waitlist and we’ll alert you when our next enrollment period happens.
Spring and Fall Scavenger Nature Hunts – Download
Download the Spring & Fall Scavenger Nature Hunts for your next outdoor adventure >> depending on where you are in the world, we’ve got you covered!
How to use the Spring Nature Scavenger Hunt:
Print out whichever hunt matches your season and carry it along with a pencil or crayon on your next nature walk.
The object of this tool is to assist you as a starting point on nature walks for developing observation skills, striking up conversation around the wonders of nature, and building curiosity.
Try not to focus on spotting them all or you’ll likely be disappointed. Instead, set the stage by sharing that it would be fun to spot one or two things on the sheet, then be delighted if you find more.
Happy Earth Day!