family therapy

Benefits of Raising Kids With a Connection to Nature

In todays society I feel many people, especially the younger generations are just completely absorbed in technology. They stare mindlessly into their smart phones, I-pad, laptop etc. and unfortunately miss the beauty that surrounds them. It can be a very humbling and awe inspiring experience when you realize the vastness of nature that surrounds you; even in midst of heavily trafficked suburban areas or on your drive to work, nature is pervasive. 

Making Nature Fun

Walking through your local parks, forests, etc. with your children and really looking around and enjoying the present moment yields a much different experience than that of what many experience in todays modern society.  It promotes mindfulness, connectedness, togetherness and an appreciation for our earth. Getting your child away from the screens and bringing them through the trails of one of your local parks can be a great way to facilitate that connectivity between your surroundings and your family. To take it a step further, learning about the local plant life and the role it plays in your environment will not only deepen the bond that you and your child form with nature and your local habitat, but can also be a deeply satisfying and rewarding experience; soon enough your child may even be teaching you a few things.  If just getting your little one away from paw patrol or bubble guppies and out into nature is enough of a task right now, that is perfectly fine. Maybe once out into the woods you create your own show (Pine Cone Patrol) that can only be experienced out in the wild (you would have to come up with the characters, character development, plot, illustrations, lighting, etc.; I can’t do everything). 

Research on Benefits of Being in Nature

If the prospect of leaving the warm comfy couch cushions that have molded to the shapes of you and your little ones bodies is still too uncomfortable of a thought, listen up because there has actually been some very interesting research on the benefits of immersing oneself in nature and how it may benefit your overall health (I don’t think watching a few episodes of man vs. wild will have the same therapeutic effect).One such study conducted by Repke, Berry, Conway, Metcalf, Hensen and Phelan (2018) found that study participants who scored high on items determining their accessibility to nature (accessibility to nature measured as prevalence of parks or other pleasant natural features nearby, amount of time spent outdoors and how safe one feels being outdoors in the area they live) found that those that scored high on the accessibility to nature measure also showed statistically significant higher scores on mental health measures. Another interesting finding in this study is that those participants who had increased accessibility to nature also showed lower scores on a task that measured impulsivity in decision-making. More interesting yet, participants place of residence was also examined to assess their proximity to nature (natural land cover) in their area. Interestingly enough, it was found that geospatial proximity of the participants to nature had no significant effect on health measures or reducing impulsive decision-making.

These findings are interesting in that they may suggest that there is not so much a link between your proximity to nature and mental/physical health, but rather your relationship with the nature in your surrounding area is what positively impacts your health. Let’s be honest, we could all use some decreases in impulsivity and definitely decreases in stress! Knowing that simply exposing yourself to nature (No, not in that way!) can potentially provide these benefits for you and your child (did I mention it’s free…), why would you not take advantage of this? Go out there and hug a tree; connect with your children, your environment and become healthier in the process. 

Stay Shining,

Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW

Reference:

Repke MA, Berry MS, Conway LG, III, Metcalf A, Hensen RM, Phelan C (2018) How does nature exposure make people healthier?: Evidence for the role of impulsivity and expanded space perception. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0202246. https:// doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0202246