We all know by now how important time spent in nature is for our health, and especially the health of our growing children. Not only is fresh air and exercise essential for healthy bodies, more and more studies are linking time in nature with mental and emotional health.
Unfortunately getting out is one of those things we often strongly believe in, and yet don’t quite manage to do. I know. The commute is killing your evenings, and soccer is eating up your Saturdays. You don‘t know where to go, and when you get there the kids melt down. Then there’s the mess when you get home.
I had all those same issues keeping us from getting out as often as we knew we should. Finally I had to decide that getting outside was as essential as food and water and build bridges over the hurdles keeping us from making it happen.
1. Clear Time
We are in a over-scheduled season at the moment and it is making outdoor time harder to accomplish. For future planning purposes I intend to keep each kid to one activity at a time, and be very selective about my volunteer time. But for now one thing I’ve done to get us out is to make a morning walk part of our homeschool checklist. That way even if we can’t clear time later in the day, we’ve had some fresh air and a bit of nature first thing after morning chores. It’s not quite enough time for my taste, but it’s better than an hour in front of a screen any day.
2. Gear Up
As the old saying goes, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. Last winter I gave up trying to squeeze into my old snow gear and finally bought the right size. Suddenly taking the kids out sledding didn’t seem like such a chore. Having the right gear for whatever Mother Nature throws at you will keep you comfortable and enjoying your outdoor time much longer. At a minimum you’ll want to dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and a carry a backpack for snacks, water and a first aid kit.
When it comes to sporting goods, I’d recommend renting gear for your first season so that you can decide whether the new activity is going to stick before you shell out your hard-earned money.
3. Pair Up
If you don’t live in an area with easily accessible open spaces it may be that you are uncomfortable getting out because you are unsure where to go, and when you do get out you are on unfamiliar turf. It can be helpful to find an outdoorsy friend to show you the ropes until you get your legs under you. Another option is to join a nature study group or an outdoor education club such as Scouts or Camp Fire. If there is cell coverage where you venture, bringing a phone can also give you a sense of security.
4. Start Small
If you’re new to getting outdoors with the family you won’t want to jump right in with a full-on hike in the woods. Instead find an out-of-the-way corner in a nearby park, and ease into the dirt, bugs, and weather with short initial visits. As you get more comfortable being outdoors you can try a short jaunt to a good picnic spot, and then a day hike before taking on longer treks, or over-nighters.
5. Just Be
When you’re decompressing from a hyper-scheduled lifestyle it can feel like you should be doing something at all times. For that reason it may be good to have a scavenger hunt or a nature journal with you for your first few visits to the woods, especially if you are bringing children who are accustomed to fully regimented days. But part of nature’s wonder is the peace it can bring when you are able to let go and just be. Eventually you’ll find yourself ditching the crutches and letting your senses fully engage with the sights, smells and sounds surrounding you, while the kids get engrossed in watching bugs or clouds.
Getting out isn’t always easy, but I’m more and more convinced its absolutely essential. Taking these baby-steps will get you on the path to more time outdoors and all the good it can do for your mind, body and spirit.
For those who already regularly get out, what baby steps would you add?