5 ways my family benefits from spending time in nature (and how yours can, too)
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
When I first committed to helping families heal their relationships with the natural world, my primary concern was motivating them to take action to protect our planet—and thus, our children’s futures. However, when the pandemic hit and schools shuttered, my boys and I headed outdoors in a serious way.
While we had always been committed weekend warriors, this was the first time that they (and perhaps more importantly, me) were outside in nature every day. We explored the local provincial and municipal parks and did a fair bit of cycling, but our most frequent haunt was a creek that crossed the few acres of land we had the good fortune to be staying on. And with this daily routine, we had the opportunity to actually experience what it means for seasons to change from winter, into spring, into summer. Our minds were blown—and our knowledge of the natural world exponentially increased.
Like for many families, this was an extremely tough time for my family—with many frustrations, changes, and stress. The time spent outside saved us, and it also made me realize that although nature needs us, we need nature so, so much more. I had already been advocating for the developmental and health benefits of time spent outdoors and how it provides opportunities for children and adults to build skills and knowledge that make them more resilient and adaptable. However, now I know it in my bones.
Below are a few of the benefits my family experiences by spending more time in nature. Hopefully these benefits will inspire your family to spend more time outside as well.
We are able to make meaningful, in-person connections
Social isolation due to lockdowns has caused its own mental health epidemic—particularly among children, but also among parents. Depression, anxiety, and addiction are on the rise.
Although there’s no simple solution, research has shown that meaningful connections can help. And that’s what the outdoors makes possible: a COVID-safe environment to re-establish in-person connections with family and friends—a place where children, parents, and caregivers can be together and enjoy each other’s company.
We get a mental health boost
Spending time in nature is an effective way to reduce stress and alleviate some of the mental health symptoms that children and parents (especially mothers) are exhibiting due to the pandemic. A growing body of neuroscience and psychological research into the benefits of outdoor play for children and time in nature for adults is demonstrating that these activities are sometimes as effective, or even more effective than, therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions.
Our mental health doesn’t only benefit from meaningful connections with other people, but from a connection with nature itself.
We enjoy quality time together as a family
While in nature, it is easier for us to self-regulate—meaning we’re better able to calmly confront challenges that arise in our day-to-day lives.
Outdoors is where my family gets along better. When we’re outside, we tend to feel more relaxed and enjoy our time together more. Rules for behaviour are much more lax than indoors, so I don’t have to constantly police my kids’ behaviour (though we’ve had challenges reigning in stick play and wrestling). In general, there are less fights, more cooperation, and more moments of shared excitement. I’d go so far as to say more love.
We get more physical activity
During the pandemic, children’s health suffered due to a lack of physical activity. Now only 2.6% of Canadian kids are moving as much as doctors say they need to during the day! In my family’s case, with two incredibly active boys, I mistakenly thought we were immune to this. But in the third lockdown, my 9-year-old refused to leave his room during the day. His previously svelte body became soft. Unless we take action, these dips in our children’s physical activity could follow our kids for the rest of their lives.
Being outside can inspire active play in children. When kids are outdoors, they’re more likely to run, jump, climb, and explore—and not get as tired in the process. This is more the case when time outside is not a hike (can you hear the whining, “how much further?”). At Family Earth we don’t do hikes—we go on adventures.
We take a break from screens and technology
Time spent in nature can give our brains the chance to heal from too much time in front of our screens. COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns brought about a big change: suddenly, our lives were (mostly) online. Work, school, “hanging out” with friends, even attending yoga class—everything took place through a screen.
While the Internet provides opportunities for learning and connection, and is clearly the safer option for socializing when community transmission rates are high, in excess (and we’ve certainly had that) it’s harmful to kids and adults. Besides reducing eyestrain and preventing headaches, benefits of reduced screen time include increased mindfulness, improved sleep, deepened connections, and enhanced productivity and learning.
While kids may need to detox from screens for a bit before being able to appreciate it, nature is just as exciting, if not more exciting. I promise!
I hope this inspires you and your family to spend more time in nature. I’ve seen the benefits with my family first-hand. Give it a try! And let us know what it does for your family.
If you’re interested in family-friendly nature activities, Family Earth offers a variety of programs to get kids and parents outside. Check out all our summer experiences here. We hope to see you soon!