We don’t need to be outside long before sensing the magic nature holds.
We feel fuller, freer, more alive.
Its resonance lingers, long after we return indoors.
Nature holds magic and medicine for all of us.
We understand, intuitively and cognitively, the spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits of the great outdoors. Nature’s calming, restorative power is undeniable, a tonic for our modern lives.
“Nature can help people recover from ‘normal psychological wear and tear”Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
Yet our children are being denied this magic. They’re being kept indoors. Kids are spending less time communing with mother nature and more time inside staring at screens. They’re losing the desire and drive to be outside; missing out on the deep and lasting benefits nature has to offer.
Modern children are far removed from the idyllic, outdoor childhoods many of us enjoyed—trading the woods for Wi-Fi and tree climbing for touchscreens.
This sedentary shift isn’t just a lifestyle change; it’s a crisis in the making.
And while it’s important to acknowledge this isn’t parents’ fault – society’s tide of tech obsession and overwhelm makes it almost impossible not to be swept away – it becomes our responsibility once we see it.
We must heed the alarm bells and recognize that nature is not a ‘perk’ or ‘benefit’ or ‘reward’; it’s a birthright, a fundamental necessity for human well-being.
Richard Louv, the seminal author of ‘Last Child in the Woods,’ coined this disconnect as ‘nature-deficit disorder,’ a condition that has been linked to obesity, attention disorders, anxiety and depression. It’s time for transformative change, time to give our children what they inherently need—a reconnection with nature.
We mustn’t forget what we instinctively understand — nature isn’t just medicinal for us, it’s healing for our children too.
So, in this post, let’s remind ourselves of what nature has to offer both parents and children, why we need to reorient back to the outdoors and how to do it.
Today’s children need nature more than ever
There are countless research papers and studies unequivocally showing us nature is beneficial on all levels.
Exercising in green spaces is superior for our mental and physical well-being compared to exercising indoors. One study of 20,000 participants by The European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter showed that in comparison to those who spent no time in nature, the participants who spent 2 hours in nature per week reported significantly higher well-being.
Additionally, research supporting the Attention Restoration Theory indicates that exposure to nature can alleviate mental fatigue, improving children’s focus and attention in academic and home environments. This exposure to nature is not just beneficial — it’s essential.
“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
The Japanese concept of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku is becoming more popular in the West. Forest bathing is the concept of being calm and relaxed among the trees and connecting with nature through all of our senses. It has been reported to reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms, and facilitate faster rehabilitation.
Yet, instead of embracing what nature offers, we’re allowing our fears to get the better of us; we fear the sun on our children’s skin, their falling over, their becoming covered in dirt. As Linda McGurk, author of There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather, argues, there are far more benefits to being in nature than there are risks. It is time to reevaluate where we let our children spend their days.
“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”Nelson Mandela
Linda is Scandinavian born and these Nordic countries see nature as intrinsic to childhood not merely something to visit when the weather and time are right. Despite the weather extremes in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark the children are outside as much as possible.
Outdoor gear is so much more advanced than the clothing we (or our parents and grandparents) wore outside; we simply have no excuse to not embrace nature in all its wild glory. When I interviewed Linda, she said to me, “meet any Scandinavian child in the winter and you’ll never hear them complain they are cold!”
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Have you heard of friluftsliv?
Friluftsliv (loosely translated as “open-air life”) is a Scandinavian concept about spending time outdoors without pressure to achieve or compete. It is about disconnecting from stress and finding ourselves again in nature. In Norway, it is seen as fundamental for physical and mental health and therefore is encouraged daily.
“Being outside makes me want to be outside even more because I notice how much better I feel when I’m outside.”Linda Åkeson McGurk
Friluftsliv is not a specific activity. It’s about slowing down, simplifying, and spending time doing the things that don’t cost much money, like hiking, camping, kayaking, birding, swimming, foraging, or even just taking a stroll around the block.
It can be as simple as taking a stroll around the block after dinner, lighting a backyard campfire and roasting marshmallows, or forming your own outdoor playgroup.
It is choosing an open-air life for your family.
It’s simply about the act of going outside.
Friluftsliv is something the whole family is encouraged to embrace. After living in the USA for 15 years Linda noticed a massive difference between the children there and those in her home country including her own kids.
In Sweden, it’s almost a badge of honour for kids to get muddy and scraped hands from their vigorous outdoor play. Kids are sent outdoors dressed to get dirty and proceed to do so.
In the US, Linda noticed that parents were often uncomfortable with the idea of their kids getting muddy. She sensed a fear of dirt and germs. Yet, most of what is in the soil is not pathogenic. Exposure to the soil and a bit of dirt under our nails is incredible for our gut health and microbiome. Kids’ immune systems need to be exposed to a variety of microorganisms to get stronger.
Friliftsliv is what our children need. Importantly, spending time in nature helps children develop curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Sunlight exposure ensures better Vitamin D levels, vital for bone health and immunity. And, by fostering a deeper understanding and respect for the environment, children become future environmental stewards.
Children who play outdoors are healthier than those who don’t. The majority of colds and pathogens come from indoor environments. Fresh air and sunshine are what protect against illness; it’s time to share this medicine with our children.
Mother nature has your back and makes parenting easier
The days when parenting feels impossibly hard, when the days are long, when siblings are arguing and everything feels like a struggle going outside can turn it all around.
Ginny Yurich, founder of 100 Hours Outside, thought motherhood would come easily for her, yet found herself with three small children under three struggling to make it through her days. She recalls the first good parenting day she experienced after spending four consecutive hours outside, having been shared the benefits of time in nature from a friend.
From that day forward she made sure that she and her children spent up to four hours outside daily, the equivalent of 1000 hours every year. In doing this Ginny noticed something: her kids stopped getting sick. For over a decade, she has not had to take her kids to the doctor for an illness. Her kids are happier, eating better, and sleeping better (and Ginny is reaping the same benefits).
“Nature is always the perfect thing for their age and stage.”Ginny Yurich
How Nature Benefits Our Children
We’ve touched on how kids who spend more time outside spend less time at the doctor’s office, but the benefits don’t stop there. When we get our kids outside more we notice:
- Children naturally do more complex movements which in turn enhances cognition.
- They try harder and push themselves more, helping them to master new skills.
- Outdoor play helps prepare our kids for more structured learning by expending the energy in their bodies so they can sit more calmly afterwards.
- Develops proprioceptive skills by activating the vestibular system.
- Multi-age play is more likely to happen outside presenting more opportunities to learn social skills.
- Imagination runs wild as children naturally have to make something out of nothing to play outdoors.
- Full-spectrum light regulates emotions, mood, sleep and circadian rhythm. Sunshine also aids the release of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
- Children have the opportunity to take calculated risks and learn what their bodies are capable of, they self-discover where their limits lay.
“Nature is a warm sensory bath that can counterbalance the cold overwhelm of too much activity, too much information or to much ‘stuff’“Kim John Payne
You won’t regret a single moment spent outdoors with your child
As a mother who has taken her son outside every chance I got since he was a baby, I can honestly say that I don’t regret a single moment spent outdoors with my child. Did I say it was easy? NO! It’s not easy…but it’s always worth it.
And that’s why I interviewed two incredible outdoor, nature-inspired mamas for this year’s summit; Ginny Yurich, author and founder of 1000 Hours Outside and Linda Åkeson McGurk, author of There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather. In both of these interviews we keep it real and share ways to make it easier to get outside with your kids no matter their age and no matter the weather.
So, join us and 28 incredible speakers on all things natural parenting! It’s totally free and taking place September 21st – 25th, 2023. Grab your FREE ticket here and invite a friend to join you.