Immersing kids in nature can make a huge difference for their emotional well-being. And it turns out, it can also save the day and my sanity. According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods connecting with nature “should be thought of as vital to children’s health and development.” And if the prospect of unplanned activities in the great outdoors sounds unappealing, there are tons of great ideas to help sweeten the deal.
Here’s what we did recently. I had two tired and cranky kids. I was exhausted, but didn’t want to throw in the towel and yell after Chloe threw an egg on the floor and Jasmine dumped the raw, gooey, contents of our bread pudding onto the countertop. Bones rattling, I put away our soggy mass of pudding and took a deep breath. “We’re going to the woods. Now.” Jasmine tried to be contrary and protest, but I continued. “Gather your animals. At least five of them. We’re walking them to the teepee and we’re going to have a forest tea party.” That was all I needed to say. She tried to come up with a protest, but the idea was just too appealing. She scurried about excited and engaged, discussing which animals would enjoy the ride. She weighed the merits of the carriers she would transport them in. Chloe raced about screeching “An-mals! An-mals! An-mals!” I reined in my tired, weary thoughts, grabbed jackets, and ushered them outdoors.
Before we had walked very long, my head began to throb a bit less. Jasmine began to gather twigs and bits of nature for plates, bowls, tea leaves, spoons, a table and even a Christmas tree, which I lugged over my shoulder. As we entered the woods, though weary, I was lighter. Both girls began to explore, busy themselves with bits of branches, mounds of earth. We reached the teepee–a lovely gathering of fallen branches some good soul built seemingly just for our family–and Jasmine laid out blankets and proudly told me, “I’m going to smarten the place up Mama. Just a moment.” She invited me in, I cuddled down on the blanket with Chloe, and we tea-partied, hunted in the “snowstorm” for berries, and reenacted scenes from Wind in the Willows. By the time we marched home, we were all cheerful and spent, ready for a big plate of whole-grain (low sugar) bread pudding–still warm from the oven. As I look back on the day, I once again am reminded that sometimes it’s hard to use words to explain why nature is so important to protect. It’s much easier to simply feel it.