Elk, Estes Park
Elk, Estes Park

We all lead busy lives.  We know some down time benefits our bodies and souls, especially those of children.  But how to catch some of that down time?

By now, we are adapting to the routines and pace of school.  Most of us – big and small – are tired.  Many of us have fall colds or flu.  It’s time to take a breather and slow down, even while calendars and lists make us feel otherwise.

While many tasks and people who required our time and care this weekend, our family managed to make some time to wander outdoors in the gorgeous Rockies.  I was torn between letting everyone slug-out their colds on the couch or nudging them up and out the door. The privilege of being able to do so weighed heavy on my mind.  How could we pass this up? Isn’t this the type of outdoor experience which yields the type of positive energy that will help our physical, mental and spiritual health?  We had to seize the opportunity. Armed with tissues and water bottles, off we went through Roosevelt National Forest for a quick visit to see the elk.

The to-do lists will be there tomorrow and they may be even longer. Our brains and our kids’ brains need down time to consolidate.  We cannot keep piling more on top without some quiet reflection.  Our children need us fully present for more than a few moments at a time. We all need time to wander, watch, wonder.  To be. To inhale. To exhale. Some of us manage to do this with our children daily, others weekly or monthly.  We don’t need national parks or destination spots to call us outdoors.  Our yards, neighborhoods, local parks meet the same needs when we let them.  And we should be “letting them” on a regular basis.  It really benefits our kids to get some solid outdoor time every day – with or without us.  It’s hard to accomplish, but when you look at the research, it’s easier to move outdoor time up on your list of priorities.  So let’s take a quick walk through the research on getting outdoors for a walk…

Research shows that children need to spend time in nature for physical, mental and emotional development. Here’s why:

  • Nature reduces stress and lowers the risk of depression. Many studies have shown that a relationship with nature and animals lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and wards off depression in both children and adults.
  • Children work through issues by playing outdoors. When something is troubling you, how many of us have found quiet and solitude in the outdoors? Nature has a restorative, spiritual quality that enables children (and adults) to think more clearly.
  • Outdoor experiences may combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD are restless, and have trouble paying attention, listening, following directions and focusing on tasks. Studies have found that TV may increase a child’s likelihood of developing concentration problems, but that nature experiences may improve a child’s ability to listen and focus.
  • Children who spend more time outdoors may reduce their risk of obesity and other physical health problems. Forty percent of five to eight year olds suffer cardiac risk factors such as obesity. Two thirds of American children can’t pass a basic physical. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that contact with nature is as important to children as good nutrition and adequate sleep.
  • “Nature smart” children have heightened sensory skills. Outdoor environments challenge, excite and stimulate our senses (while controlled, indoor electronic environments tend to drown our senses with noise and visual stimulation). Outdoor experiences help develop our kids’ sense of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch all at once. Nature connected kids tend to pay more attention to the world around them, often noticing things that others miss. They also tend to do better on standardized testing.
  • Outdoor experiences foster more creativity. Natural spaces stimulate children’s limitless imaginations. Children who connect with nature may be more inventive and better problem solvers due to the hands on learning the outdoors provides.

(Research and statistics taken from Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.)
Finally, in his chapter, “The Spiritual Necessity of Nature for Children,” Louv speaks about the importance of wonder.   “The most important word… to me is wonder. The root of all spiritual life is that early sense of wonder. When was the first time you had that sense of wonder? It may have been something simple: one of my first memories is watching the dust fall in front of a window. But I also remember going out and turning over rocks, and seeing a universe of bugs that lived underneath — a parallel universe. There is another world. When a child listens to the leaves in the trees, they sense something bigger than their parents’ problems. That’s more important than keeping grade averages up…”  Louv continues, “Healing the broken bonds between our young and nature is in everyone’s self interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical and spiritual health depend upon it.”
Despite all the other things on your to do list – and your kids’ calendars – make some time to just be outdoors with your little ones.  It’s not just for fun; their health, and yours, depends on it.  Our time in the Rockies put the day to day worries aside for a bit. Let us breath deeply, talk more quietly, and just be. And those elk are just spectacular creatures up close!    For most of us, this is a gorgeous time of year to kick up some leaves, pick some fruit, collect firewood, walk the beach, or just sit in the quiet.  It will do your body and soul good.

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