Nature and the Mental Health Benefits for Kids

June 23, 2020

Contributed by @ThisGrowingLife 

It’s no secret that we’re living in the time when mental health issues affect a large portion of the general population.  During quarantine especially the amount of mental health services being sought out has risen dramatically. With so many things going on in the world right that can feel heavy and overwhelming, the importance of making our children’s mental health a priority is paramount.

Today I’m going to share with you 5 ways that we take care of our mental health by getting out into nature, but first here are some of the main ways that our brains and bodies are benefited when we spend more time in contact with nature.

What are the mental health benefits of being in nature for children?

1) Being in nature increases exposure to the sun thus increasing vitamin D and serotonin levels in the body. Healthy Vitamin D and serotonin levels help our bodies to better regulate our moods and emotions in turn reducing depression and anxiety.

2) It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, “urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.”

3) It has been found that spending more time in nature as a child is linked to better mental health as an adult.

4) Play and exploring in nature builds confidence in children.  The lack of stricture and ability to play freely provides ample opportunities for children to gain confidence in themselves. “The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has the power to control his own actions.”

5) Being out in nature is usually conducive to being able to get some exercise. Whether it’s taking a walk through a forest or going for a swim in a lake, exercise produces endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. They also improve the ability to sleep thus reducing stress and sleep conditions.

Now if you’re anything like me, after reading that list you’re already looking for your sunscreen and children and planning an afternoon walk as soon as possible! And while walks in nature are definitely an incredible way to take advantage of those mental health benefits listed above, I wanted to share a few other ways that we have been reaping the abundant mental health benefits of being in nature.

1) Plant a garden!

There’s just something about digging in the dirt that makes us feel so connected with the world around us. Each year we give our children a small plot in the garden that they plant, weed, water and tend to all on their own. The joy and sense of accomplishment that they feel when they see the fruit of their labour is a huge mental health boost all on it’s own! If a garden plot wouldn’t work for your family, container gardens can be grown even on small balconies and will still give your child plenty of opportunity to experience the satisfaction that comes from growing a few plants.

2) Build a fort!

This is probably my children’s favourite way to connect with nature! Over the years we have made teepees, lean-tos, igloos, quentzis and more! We have spent countless hours assembling fallen tree branches into an epic structure that we then spend days visiting!

3) Play the “Little Naturalist ” game.

For this game simply give each child a piece of paper or journal and have them find a quiet spot in a natural area. For a set amount of time (I recommend starting small with just a few minutes and then working your way up) each child is to observe the area around them using only their senses of smell, sight and sound. As they observe and listen they can record their findings in their journals. Over time this teaches children and adults alike how to be quiet and really observe the things around you.

4) Take it outside!

As homeschoolers, being able to take our schoolwork outside is something we do often. Nature is by far the best classroom anyone could ask for and we love being able to use it. But it’s not just schoolwork that we take outside. In the warmer months we spent most of our waking hours outdoors. Picnics are an almost daily occurrence this time of year and we tend to live by the wise words of Charlotte Mason, “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”

 If you’re having a hard time finding natural areas around you try looking up the different provincial parks, nature reserves or conservation areas close to your home. Here in Canada we’re privileged to have an abundance of wildlife and wilderness areas too frequent. Even those in big cities can find trails, parks and other green spaces were they can spend some time listening and observing the world around them.

So, whether it’s hiking a mountain, building a fort or tenderly caring for a plant, getting out into nature is a sure to improve our children’s mental health and ours as well!