How to Enjoy Nature at Home
By Sandi Schwartz
With many kids in the Bay Area learning from home and spending an unprecedented amount of time in front of screens, getting outdoors is more important than ever. Spending time connecting to nature is so beneficial to our family’s health and well-being. It calms us when we are feeling stressed and boosts our mood when we are feeling down. There are so many wonderful ways to tap into the incredible healing power of nature even without leaving your own neighborhood.
Benefits of Nature
Giving our children the chance to soak in nature’s beauty from home is especially important these days as children suffer from "nature-deficit disorder." This term was coined by Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network. It refers to children having less experience with and connection to nature over the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, children spending less time outdoors has been linked to decreased appreciation of our environment, health problems including childhood obesity and vitamin D deficiency, diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of emotional illnesses like anxiety and depression.
On the other hand, a growing number of studies from around the world show that spending time connecting to nature can have a profound impact on our mood and behavior, helping us to reduce stress and anxiety and increase our attention, creativity and ability to connect with others.
"We are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature," writes University of Utah researcher David Strayer in an article on the website of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. One study indicated that hospital patients can reap the benefits of nature just by observing natural scenes from their hospital window. This idea can be translated to when you’re stuck at home; therefore, we can also feel better by enjoying nature from our window.
Enjoy Nature From Home
We have so many fun ways to expose our children to the beauty of nature while we are sheltering in place during this pandemic. All of these activities can be done from inside your home, on your balcony, in your backyard or during a safe walk in your neighborhood while practicing social distancing.
Play the cloud imagination game. I always find it so fascinating to stare at fluffy white clouds and observe the amazing images that appear in the sky. Ask your children what they see in the clouds, such as animals, shapes, people or other objects. Take it one step further and challenge them to create a story about the cloud images or to paint a picture of what they see.
Watch for wildlife. Have your children keep an eye out for wildlife. Look for birds, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, insects and even friendly neighborhood cats. See if you can spot different types of birds, and feel free to use a bird guide or look them up online. We have been fortunate to have two friendly ducks visit our backyard often to hang out in our pool.
Find flowers and trees. Ask your children to keep a look out for different kinds of flowers and trees that they see on your property and around your neighborhood. Colorful gardens can be a real source of peace. You can make a game out of searching for flowers and trees by asking questions like: Who can find the tallest tree? Who sees the most colorful garden? Can you name that flower or tree? Feel free to refer to a nature guidebook to look up what they discover.
Soak in a sunset. What is more inspiring than a golden sunset? Look up what time the sunset will be and set an alarm so you don’t miss the show. Have your children describe the colors and how the sky is changing as the day slowly ends. Add excitement with a countdown or contest to see who can guess how long it will take for the sun to disappear. Capture the moment by taking a photograph, and then see if your children can recreate the sunset by drawing or painting it.
Gaze at the evening sky. The night sky provides us with a sense of awe and makes us think about the infinite possibilities of our universe. See if your children can spot any planets or name the constellations. There are some handy apps that you can use to confirm that you see out in space. A really simple game is to have your children count the stars and see who can find the most.
Play Nature Bingo. The National Wildlife Federation created a do-it-yourself nature bingo game (bit.ly/2D3xLhq) to encourage children to be observant of nature. You can print out the bingo cards, which include pictures of animals and scenery that you are likely to see, or make your own based on what you typically see around your home. Your kids will have a blast looking for butterflies, trees, dogs, flowers, insects and more.