“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”— Henry David Thoreau
As we find ourselves amidst a time of screens—phones, tables, TVs, computers—it’s more important than ever that we set aside some time to be in, or with, nature. As parents, we can encourage our children to step away from the screen and explore the outdoors, showing them the vast benefits, as well as the unparalleled beauty.
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The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bath,”offers us the opportunity to connect to ourselves and to the natural world. It’s about immersing ourselves in the forest and observing our surroundings while breathing deeply. This ritual practice connects us back to our natural state as humans. It transports us from the plugged-in, technology-driven modern life and enables us to take a much needed break. Our children, perhaps more so than us, need this break.
It’s been documented that on average, children ages eight to 12 in the United States spend four to six hours a day watching or using screens, with teens spending up to nine hours. And although we know that screens can teach, entertain, and keep our kids occupied, too much use can lead to problems.
Exposure to nature, on the other hand, has been linked to a plethora of benefits, including improved attention and mood, lower stress, reduced risk of mental illness, a boost in immune function, as well as enhanced empathy. Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada says, “There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well being.”
Forest bathing can be a transformational experience for our kids and fortunately, it’s extremely easy to accomplish. Here’s how:
- Find a spot as far away from man-made noise as you can. Any natural area or park with trees will work, but the more wooded the area, the better.
- Minimize distractions by turning off your electronic devices and storing them away for the duration of your walk.
- Remind your children that what you’re doing is a forest walk, not a hike. The pace and the goals are much different. Go slow. “Walking slowly will help you to keep your senses open, to notice things and smell the forest air,” explains Dr. Qing Li in his book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.
- Breathe deeply.
- Take breaks. Invite your child to stop and look around. Encourage them to appreciate the wind, the sun, the sounds.
- Ask questions. What are they hearing? Smelling?
- Walk for as long as you can.
Now, go out and find the trees. You’ll be glad you did.