LESS PLAY TIME
Eighty percent of Canadians now live in cities, separating families from natural outdoor spaces. Young explorers venturing on a fossil hunt or a road hockey game after dark have faded. Adults and children are less active, more obese; a higher incidence of mental illness is reported at younger ages.
On average, a parent has a 45-minute longer workday than 20 years ago. While today’s 15- to 19-year-old teens spend the equivalent of a 50-hour work week: with school, part-time jobs and house chores; many report feeling stressed and consider themselves 'workaholics.' Families spend less time connecting, and play together outside less often.
FAMILY: NATURE MENTORS
Whether your first nature adventure as a child was capturing fireflies or exploring the banks of a stream, chances are it was with a parent or grandparent. These mentors introduce the world of small creatures, share the wonders of nature’s cycle of birth, life and death, and teach how to respect dangers of a rapidly flowing creek. Nature moves at a natural, luxurious pace and offers a limitless expanse to explore and facilitates adult-child connection and sensitive interactions.
Children have an innate 'love of nature,' or biophilia making them great nature-mentors to adults. Once comfortable in a natural, wild setting, they can lose themselves for hours in the endless spaces and places to explore. They learn to entertain themselves and see things adults don’t and allow imagination to guide their play. Follow a child’s lead in nature and the family hierarchy dissolves. Explore the sights, sounds and smells of wild spaces that ignite your child’s curiosity, imagination and creativity. Senses become sharper. And, in nature, children are constantly on the move.
Recent studies of brain development show that strong child-parent bonds improve a child’s mental processes, their ability to reason, plan, remember and problem solve. Connecting through unstructured play in nature offers emotional, psychological, physical and cognitive benefits, especially for young children to help reduce stress; improve motor fitness, balance and coordination; while fostering cooperative behaviour. Kids diagnosed with ADD performed better on tests and ADD symptoms decreased after taking a short walk in a natural park setting. And surprisingly, regular outdoor activity reduces the need for glasses for near-sightedness!
In a child’s 'special nature place,' they’re free to 'be,' and explosive or restless behaviours dissipate. Serenity permeates feelings of sadness or upset, and they
destress. This peaceful experience, embedded in memory becomes a place to go back to in times of distress or pain; 'nature becomes nurturer.'
Connect with nature by planning experiential, age-appropriate activities for children. Have toddlers splash in a puddle, dig in the dirt or collect objects to display proudly at home. Build a fort with school-aged children; explore a trail or camp together under the stars in a backyard tent. Take teens on birding field trips, go backpacking, hiking or canoeing. Create family-community projects: collect trash, plant a community garden and build bird houses for it.
Can’t tear them away from their gadgets? Document a nature excursion with photographs to identify flora, fauna and their habitat or make a movie. Experience nature’s grandeur, mystery and fragility together – toss pebbles in a pond, plant seeds in a pot – follow your child’s lead to recall your fun and carefree daydreaming! H&L
Get inspired! Richard Louv’s books: Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. The Back to Nature
Network and Active Kids Club offer tips, activities and nature clubs to foster nature-connections.