Nature’s Cure: Helping Children Find Wellness and Create Connection

Play for Peace + Kikori Check Ins, Part 2

A growing body of research is now focusing on the connection between nature and health and wellness, and the results are clear: experiencing nature has both psychological and physiological benefits. While we all know that being outside is good for us, just how good is it for our health?

“It’s well-known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being, but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough,” says Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter. “Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”

So, not only is there a benefit to spending time in nature, for the average person, spending two hours a week outside is all it takes to feel a difference! 

If you don't have access to the outdoors at this time, bring nature indoors:

  • Create nature decorations and post them up around your house, you could transport yourselves to a tropical forest or a beach!
  • Try planting your own herb garden or other indoor plants, here is a great guide to planting food using kitchen scraps. 

What are some of the benefits? 

Studies have shown that exposure to nature can lower rates of anxiety and depression, decrease stress levels, prevent disease, and stimulate immune functioning. For those suffering from issues such as stress and physical ailments, there are now programs that give outdoor prescriptions so that people experience the benefits of nature.

According to Dr. Nooshin Razani, a pediatrician from Oakland, CA, who gives her patients outdoor prescriptions, “If you take an urban adult into a forest, within 15 minutes, you see improvements in cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate.” Through the SHINE program, which promotes outdoor prescription programs in 34 states, Razani completed one of the first randomized trials and found that every park visit resulted in improved stress for parents. 

“Every park visit [also] resulted in improved resilience for a child,” she said. “But it didn't matter if they came with us or they went on their own.”

Connecting with nature is not just good for humans, but for nature as well. After understanding the impact of nature on health and wellness, people start to care more about protecting the environment and the impact it has on our lives. 

Especially during this uncertain time in the world, if you have access to the great outdoors, go outside! Experience the robust effects that nature can have on your mental, physical, and emotional wellness. The “Nature Check-in” activity and suggestions below can help you during upcoming nature walks with your family. 

What is a "Nature Check-in"?

Nature check-ins involve looking at nature and turning pieces of it into metaphors for how you and you child are feeling. The check-in statement can change based on what you would like to discuss with your child. For example:

Inside your home or on a morning walk, your statement could be, “Find something in nature that represents how you’re feeling this morning.”

Or, change the statement to help guide your check-in: 

  • If you are looking for a general sense of how your child is doing, your statement could be, “Find/Draw something in nature that represents how you’re feeling about quarantine.”  
  • If your child has been feeling down, add a directive twist by saying, “Find/Draw something in nature that represents something you’re thankful for since we started the quarantine.”  

During a nature walk, ask your child to:

• Find something in nature that represents how you feel. This may result in items such as sticks, twigs, or mushrooms—you never know what will catch his or her eye!

• Find a stone that represents how you feel. Point out special features that bring stones to life, such as sparkle, shine, smoothness, and coloring.

• Find a flower that represents how you feel. Discuss how some flowers are bright and can grow and spread their love everywhere, while others may only grow high up or create fruit. Again, the options are endless when you turn what you’re looking at into a metaphor!

Some other possible metaphors: A group of sticks could represent family members, and your child could share how he or she feels through the sticks; a budding leaf could remind your child of the love he or she feels for a new baby sibling; two birds singing together could remind your child of the joy felt when singing with family, or a line of ants working together could be a reminder of how good it feels to help out around the house. All of these ideas posted above easily can be brought into the home by using household items to create sticks, drawing ants, or cutting out leaves with construction paper. 

You never know what your children may find or create with your support. Go along with their ideas, join in their creativity, and ask questions to learn more and help them go deeper. After your nature excursion, you can continue the adventure by learning how to dry the wildflowers they picked, paint their rocks, or turn their findings into a piece of art. The opportunities are endless!

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De Vries, S.; Verheij, R.; Groenewegen, H.; Spreeuwenberg, P. 2003. Natural environments—healthy environments? An exploratory analysis of the relationship between green space and health. Environment and Planning. 35(10): 1717–1731.

Dr. Razani, N. (2019, August 28). Why doctors are increasingly prescribing nature. (Wise, C. Interviewer). Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/why-doctors-are-increasingly-prescribing-nature

Photo Credits:
1) Amy Treasure on Unsplash; 2) Alexander Dummer on Unsplash; 3) Annie Spratt on Unsplash