So, start loving nature a little bit more. Go outside. Run around. Lay in the grass. Everybody. You, me, Ellison, my students. All of us. It will improve our physical, mental and emotional health. We'll learn new things, take deep breaths and if we do it once, we'll probably even want to do it again. We can do it alone, or with friends. We can take pictures and dogs, children and picnics.
The healing powers of nature have long been known, but recently, as rapid urbanization has resulted in an alarming disconnect between people and the natural world, there has been a movement to scientifically prove these benefits in hopes of encouraging more people to get outside. Experts have made positive correlations between spending just 30 minutes outside a day with lower instances of (or improvement in symptoms related to) obesity, ADHD, mood disorders, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and a variety of psychopathologies. Psychologists are even recommending increased outdoor activity as treatment. It's called ecotherapy. While everyone can benefit from time spent outside, the key to establishing a lifelong connection to the natural world starts in childhood. Children who are exposed to daily unstructured outdoor play are healthier, happier and are more likely to care about the environment. While this seems so obvious, the amount of play time (and particularly play time spent outside) has greatly diminished for most children as a result of an increase in structured, supervised activities, a heightened sense of danger and fear related to the outdoors and technologies that cater to indoor fun.
We're all super busy just trying to get by and it's difficult to find time to do even one more little thing. But Ellison and I encourage you to at least glance at the list of readings we've put together below. You've probably heard of a number of these books and have maybe even read a few of them. If so, then you can attest to the healing power of nature as well as we can. If not, then we hope you will give the idea that nature is essential to a healthy life some thought and maybe even find ways to incorporate time outdoors into your weekly routine. And if you're a teacher, possibly find ways to incorporate more opportunities for your students to learn outdoors (forest kindergartens, anyone?). I will say, on this note, allowing my students (high school seniors) to study outside, having class outside in nice weather or just taking them on a simple walk in the open fields around school not only breaks up the monotony of the day (for them and me), but also adds a much appreciated element of relaxation to the class that does not diminish academic performance. I would argue the opposite, in fact.
These readings illustrate the connection between exposure to nature and overall well-being. I am by no means an expert (and have no connections to these books or articles other than I have read them over the years and happen to support the arguments made), but I can say that I (like many others) have struggled with real issues like ADHD, depression and anxiety, and incorporating regular outdoor activity into my everyday life has become a critical component in helping me manage my symptoms. I have had conversations with Ellison about this and I haven't tried to hide my struggles from her. I want her to know that while spending time doing things together outside is fun, it is also an important way in which we take care of our holistic health and that there are real consequences that result from a lack of exposure to nature, both as individuals and collective societies. She seems to understand, and I hope that Trevor and I have instilled a foundation strong enough that she will continue to value these principles as she gets older.
So check out our list! Did we leave off something essential? Feel free to add your own recommendations - Ellison and I would love to hear from you!
* Click on image to link to the book or article. Book covers and article photos not property of Girls in the Park.
Last child in the woods - richard louv
This is the book that really brought national attention to the idea that kids may actually end up suffering lifelong consequences as a result of not spending enough time playing outside. I remember receiving this book as a gift from a student in my class many years ago. He had gone to hear the author speak about the concept of "nature-deficit disorder" and thought that I would appreciate Louv's viewpoint. He was right. Thank you so much, John!
The Nature Principle - Richard Louv
This is the follow-up to Last Child in the Woods, published 7 years later, in 2012. Whereas Last Child in the Woods focused more on the issue of nature-deficit disorder, The Nature Principle addresses what we need to do both as parents and as a society to reconnect with nature. I love this book. It served as a motivating factor in my decision to start this blog with Ellison.
Your brain on nature -
how to raise a wild child - scott sampson
I just finished this book and loved it as both a parent and a teacher. Sampson (who is the paleontologist on the PBS KIDS show, Dinosaur Train) examines the need for nature in the lives of children from infants to teenagers, offers ways to incorporate more of the outdoors into our lives and even touches on how to affect environmental policy changes. A lot of what is in this book is widely known, but I still think it should be a "must-read" for anyone who interacts with kids!
"I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."
- Henry David Thoreau