by Erin Schneider
“Now I see the secret of the making of the best person. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the Earth.” —Walt Whitman
I spent my childhood outside—from playing capture the flag with the neighborhood kids to family camping adventures within our beautiful state and national parks. These experiences shaped who I am today, while also providing a wealth of “Grandpa Hensel” stories that my family still loves to tell years later.
Since our children were babies Brian and I have been taking them camping and hiking. We have enjoyed many wonderful experiences during our family adventures. The look on Bryce’s face when he climbed his first mountain. The first time Elias slept through the night was in our tent at Eklutna Lake in Alaska. Other times things did not go so well—such as the summer we took the kids camping at Rock Island and forgot all the flashlights. Zoe was 9 months old and all we had was a small pen light. Changing a dirty diaper in a tent late at night with a pen light does not yield good results. But that is how family lore is born—the stories that we love to tell over and over again and are woven into the fabric of our family’s identity.
Our outdoor experiences are evolving as our children grow older. With a small yard, we’ve taken to hiking at a few of our favorite parks and trails where there is more space for the kids to roam and explore. Hiking with children is a completely different experience than when you’re on your own. It’s slow going and we stop all the time. It takes us twice as long to cover half the distance. One kid is running ahead to see what is up around the bend while another is way behind, caught up in examining an interesting tree. Someone always has to stop to go potty in the woods. If there is a water feature along the way it must have rocks thrown into it. We all end up with pockets full of pebbles, dirt, leaves, acorns, and twigs. And usually, by the time we’re back at the car, we all feel better than when we started.
The peace and happiness that (usually) follows our outdoor time is why we have worked hard to weave nature into our daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms. In addition to what we know to be true is the abundance of research illustrating the wide variety of benefits nature has a child’s overall health and wellbeing. From increased self esteem and confidence to improved social skills, ability to compromise, collaborate, and cooperate. Children who spend time in nature show enhanced empathy, flexibility, self-awareness, and self-regulation (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005). Additionally, children who spend time outside develop stronger cognitive skills by improving awareness, reasoning, and observation skills (Wells, 2000). As parents and teachers we’ve all seen the benefits nature has on our children—they’re happier and healthier, play better with each other, and sleep better after a day spent outside.
During our excursions we’ve found that having friends and family to share in our hiking and camping adventures adds to the enjoyment—it’s a wonderful way to create a strong community.
To help foster community building, as well as share in the many benefits of spending time in nature, a small group of us at Prairie Hill have started a Nature Club and have scheduled a variety of events and family-friendly nature excursions that are open to parents/grandparents of children of all ages and abilities. Through these activities we hope to build a community of families that meet on a regular basis for a group hike or nature outing—a group that can share all the joys (and the occasional disasters) of exploring nature with children. Click here to go to the Nature Club page and check out the schedule of events! See you in the wild!
Sources, Research, and Further Reading
Antoine, S., Charles, C., Louv, R. (2012). Together in Nature: Pathways to a Stronger, Closer Family. Children and Nature Network. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from: https://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/CNN_FamilyBonding_2012.pdf
Burdette, H.L., and Whitaker, R.C. (2005). Resurrecting free play in young children–Looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affliliation, and affect. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 159 (1), 46-50.
Kasser, Crompton, Linn. (2010). Children, Commercialism, and Environmental Sustainability. The Solutions Journal. Retrieved on Oct 1, 2014 from: https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/571
Kellert, Stephen. (2012). Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Maniella, F., Agate, J., Clark, B. (2011). Outdoor-based play and connection to nature: A neglected pathway to positive youth development. New Directions for Youth Development, No 130.
Payne, Kim John. (2009). Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. New York, NY: Random House.
Rockwell, C. (Director). (2010). Mother nature’s child: Growing outdoors in the media age [Motion picture]. United States: Fuzzy Slippers Production.
Sax, L. (2009). Boys adrift: The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. New York: Basic Books.
Wells, N.M. (2000) At Home with Nature: Effects of ‘Greeness’ on Children’s Cognitive Functioning. Environment and Behavior. Vol. 32, No. 6, 775-795.