For me, there’s nothing quite like that wonderful feeling in early spring when the sun finally starts to make its way through all the gray, and you’re filled with the anticipation and excitement of knowing that long, sun-filled days spent outside are just around the corner. And recent research has found that this happiness most of us experience from being outdoors isn’t only in our minds—turns out, nature is an essential component for good health, too.
According to University of Illinois environment and behavior researcher Frances “Ming” Kuo, a closer look at research done throughout the past decade has repeatedly shown that access to nature and green spaces actually improves health—physically and mentally—regardless of factors like age or income. “In greener settings, we find that people are more generous and more sociable. We find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others,” Kuo said in a news release.
Kuo’s research has found studies that show that more time spent outside can result in everything from a speedier recovery after surgery to better cognitive functioning, whereas a lack of access to nature has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, clinical depression and childhood obesity. So the next time your child’s ready to settle down in front of the TV or computer, suggest heading outdoors to play instead. Getting outside will improve your family’s overall wellbeing, and might even inspire a lifelong appreciation of wildlife and nature in your child. A few fun activities to try:
Start a collection
When I was growing up, I had what I thought was the world’s coolest rock collection. Granted, most of them were pebbles I’d found on the playground at school, but that hobby definitely got me outside looking for potential new additions. Whether it’s rocks, bugs, or leaves, starting a collection of some of nature’s finest goodies will not only get your child outside, it will make her want to be there.
Play good old-fashioned games
Classic outdoor games like red rover, red light-green light, and flashlight tag are not only tons of fun, they’re a great way to get families outside and moving together. If you’re feeling really inspired, help your child plan a neighborhood scavenger or treasure hunt with friends.
Write a book
Whether it’s a pretty plant at a nearby park, or that cute squirrel in your backyard your child has adopted as his own, Mother Nature offers plenty of story ideas to creative minds. Next time your child wants to go outside, have him print this wildlife watch journaling activity from the National Wildlife Federation’s website—little nature lovers can write down the different animals and plants they see and write a story about them, then they can upload stories and photos to share with other outdoor enthusiasts.
Turn nature into works of art
Even if your child isn’t necessarily on his way to becoming the next Monet, suggest he take his next art project to the great outdoors. You can collect and press dry flowers, make leaf prints with all-natural ink and foam stamps, or even make watercolors with fresh-picked berries—all you need are some mashed up berries and a paint brush (plus plenty of newspaper, to avoid major messes!).
What about you? Now that the weather’s (finally) taken a turn for the better, how do you and your family plan on spending time outside?