Thursday, August 1, 2013

Strategies to Relieve Stress & Reconnect With Nature

We live in an era of electronics and technology, and while these things are useful, it's important to keep things in perspective and enjoy the natural world. Studies show that just getting outside for an hour a day is very beneficial, especially for children. It relieves stress, helps calm negative emotions and reduce "acting out," and improves focus. In fact, there are more and more programs popping up to help urban school kids reconnect with nature. No matter what your location, there are ways you and your family can get back to Mother Nature, and gain the stress relieving benefits that go with it.

1. Get outside

English: Poison Glen - Mother Nature - the flo...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This one may seem rather obvious, but if you live in the inner city, getting outside does not necessarily put you in the middle of nature. For those who are lucky enough to have a yard to play in, just going outside with no particular agenda is a wonderful way for children and adults to connect with the natural world. If you or your kids are more comfortable with having a project to do while you are outside, here are some ideas:

-Build a "cabin" from twigs by laying them cross-wise like settlers' cabins.
-Collect rocks, leaves, etc. and identify them.
-Identify plants and what they are good for (such as food or medicine).
-Collect pine cones, seed pods, feathers, etc. and use them to make crafts.

If you live in the middle of the city, make a point to go to a park or a national or state forest once a week. You might consider attending an arboretum, too, or participating in a nature walk. Most national and state parks host nature walks at various times of the year.

2. Get dirty

Mothers tend to cringe when their children stomp through a mud puddle, but just getting down in the mud is such a fun, child-like way to enjoy nature. Gardening is a more purposeful reason to dig in the dirt; why not ask your kids to help you? Children can pull weeds and throw them enthusiastically into a wheelbarrow; they can harvest vegetables or dig holes for planting. If they are very young, give them a shovel, a bucket of water, and a section of earth to dig in. (Remember the old-fashioned concept of mud pies?) Even if you live in the city, container gardening is rewarding and plenty dirty!

Child enjoys a puddle in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
3. Get wet

Nature is not always about warm, sunny days. Truly natural surroundings are variable. Try taking a walk when it's snowing and enjoy looking at the snowflakes. If it's raining, jump in the puddles and feel like a kid again! 

4. Get wild

Attracting backyard birds or squirrels with a feeder is an educational way to bring wildlife to you. (And you're doing something nice for the animals.) Get a bird identification book and look up the names of your many visitors. You might consider investing in a pair of binoculars.

5. Look up

No matter where you live, there is sky above you. Spend some time looking at the stars and moon at night, and the clouds by day. Did you ever find shapes in the clouds as a child? It's still a fun activity for the whole family. And of course, finding shapes in the stars is something man has been doing for eons. Teach your children about constellations and try to find them. If you use binoculars or a telescope, the fascination broadens. You may find your family gathered around the telescope for hours in the evening instead of the TV, and there's no better feeling than realizing how much fun you had together doing this!
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