Warmer weather is here, so no more excuses from your children on why they can’t get outside. Not only is the weather to be enjoyed but so are the budding trees, flowers, influx of birds, and the arrival of insects are all there to be observed and studied.
Kids by nature are curious. Unfortunately, in today’s world, kids fill a lot of their natural curiosity with the use of technological devices rather than real experiences. Likewise, they spend a majority of the time spent on devices inside rooms with recycled (hopefully) air, artificial light, and nothing organic (including experiences).
Most of us who spend time in nature understand the positive effects that it can have on our well-being. Researcher at the University of Utah, David Strayer states, “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally healthier when we are interacting with nature.” And now, we have the science to go along with the emotion. In Japan, a recent study was conducted with individuals who spent time walking in a forest as well as individuals who were assigned to walk in an urban area. The participants who walked in nature had significantly lower heart rates and a “higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress).” Stanford University actually used fMRI technology to watch participants brains and after a walk in nature they found an increase in activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (SPC) which contributes to calm and optimism. On the flipside, inactivity in the SPC contributes to depression, mood swings, and negative thoughts.
So what do you do? Well, here are a few activities to get those kids outside and moving this summer:
One of the best ways to get them moving and enjoying all nature has to offer is by creating a scavenger hunt. Create a list of items for students to collect out in nature along with some tasks (students might even be able to use their technology outside for identification, but books could be found and checked out prior to the scavenger hunt), for example:
- An insect – identify the different parts
- A flowing plant – Identify the parts of the flower
- Birds – Identify 3 different kinds.
- Bird sounds – Identify the sounds of three different birds
- Trees – Identify three different types
- Scat – (go somewhere you can find some?)
There are a number of other items you could have children look for. They can even look for different types of the same items on subsequent hikes. Encourage students to draw pictures or make their own identification book. ***And, if your kids are like mine, where competition is the order of every day, have your children race and the neighbor kids race to see who can find the items the fastest.
Kids love obstacle courses. You can build one with them out of things in nature and boxes, buckets, 2×4’s, logs, rope, hammocks; you name it. Have the kids take turns practicing and then timing one another. Have children determine what they could do in order to complete the course at a faster speed. Next, allow the children to create their own course with their own clever obstacles (and sorry, their course will probably be way cooler than your’s). Another fun challenge would be for them to create obstacles that allow them to cross the area without touching the ground. Encourage them to try and get across it without touching ground.
Like Ms. Frizzle Advises-Get Messy
Have your kids get in and get dirty. Go to the gardening center and allow the kids to pick out their own seeds, seedlings, or plants to contribute to the family’s yard. Have them identify what type of climate they live in (region) as well as growing conditions that are needed for the plants they are interested in growing. Then have children plant their finds in your green space. If you don’t have an area, look into the cooperative gardens that are prevalent in a number of areas. Have them help you garden and get them excited about creating their own green space.
***Go ahead and teach them about pollinators and their importance to the food chain. Have them pick out some plants that will invite pollinators into your garden.
Research in Action
Have you children start a nature journal before you go outside for a walk. Ask about their mood, thoughts and feelings and have them write down their answers. Show them how to take their pulse then have them write it down. Go sit outside for ten minutes and lie under a tree and look at the sky, talk about the clouds, relax in nature. Then go inside and take their pulse again. Have the kids write about their mood, thoughts, and feelings now. Discuss the results and whether they agree with the research. Do they feel more relaxed? Is their heart rate slower? Do they feel more at peace?
Take a hike, get dirty, play hide-n-go-seek in a confined safe area of the woods, go for a bike ride on a trail; in other words, get out with your kids and exercise in nature! Train them to utilize the best medicine out there for their well-being–NATURE!