Return of the Wild Child: Re-Connecting Children (and ourselves) With Nature

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Two hours. That's the amount of time the average adult Canadian spends outdoors each week. A survey recently conducted by Coleman Canada, found that 64% of adults surveyed spend two hours or less outdoors each week, with 30% stating that they spend less than 30 minutes outdoors each week. That's less than 5 minutes per day.. 5 minutes! My dog spends more time than that trying to find a suitable patch of grass to relieve himself in. Not only are adults spending less and less time outdoors, but our children are as a result, with the average school-age child spending 7 hours per day in front of a screen. This great divide between man and nature has grown exponentially over the past few generations, and will continue to expand with future generations if we don't take action to close the gap.

Why the disconnect?

  • No time: Life is busy. You work, kids go to school, eat dinner, do homework, bedtime routine, sleep, and do it all over again until the weekend where many of us still have to work just to make ends meet. Throw in an extracurricular activity here and there (I haven't even mentioned daily chores) and you've got yourself booked solid for the week. How can we even think about scheduling in outdoor play?
  • Weather & insects: Too hot, too cold, rainy, snowy, windy.. sometimes Canadian weather just doesn't allow for us to be outdoors. Plus, we have giant mosquitoes. No need for further explanation.
  • Addiction to technology: Our lives have been taken over by glowing screens. They're in our homes, our schools, our shopping centres, our streets. Often times it feels like there is no escaping them. Plus, it's an easy tool to use to entertain our children when we have so much work to do. Hand over an iPad with an educational app on the screen and they're instantly happy, quiet, and learning. No wonder it's a go-to for over-worked modern day parents. 
  • Fear of the unknown: Unstructured play can be scary, and no one wants their precious little ones getting hurt. It's safer inside where we can provide appropriate toys in a controlled environment. What are you supposed to do outside anyway?

Why kids need nature
I could write a book solely on the benefits that nature has to offer human beings - there are hundreds of studies and articles out there outlining each and every one - but for this blog I will focus on a few key points. Being outdoors does a body good, and simply being outdoors encourages exercise! When kids are outdoors they are constantly exploring, all which leads them to climb on rocks, in trees, run, jump, swim, move. Not only does this exploring promote physical health, it also enhances cognitive function by improving focus, critical thinking skills, and fine & gross motor skills. 'Dance Dance Revolution' can't give you that kind of work out. Nature can also provide a multitude of mental health benefits which include reduced anxiety, reduced stress levels, and enhanced overall mood. All the mind, body, & soul stuff aside, we need nature to live - literally. Trees produce the air we breathe. Without an understanding of nature, our future generations are going to continue to let our planet fade away.
Gardening and hiking are both excellent outdoor activities that can include all ages.
How to help build a connection

  • Lead by example: Go outside and be excited about it! Don't complain and don't rush to go back in the house. The dishes can wait (you don't want to do them anyway). Be in the moment and enjoy what being outdoors has to offer. Your energy and enthusiasm will be reciprocated by your children. 
  • Start early: Have a newborn? Take them outside! Not only will the fresh air and stimulation be good for baby, being in nature can help reduce stress and help you shake off those new parent jitters.
  • Let them get dirty: Kids love dirt. They can dig in it, build with it, and even eat it according to my toddler. It may mean a little extra laundry for parents, but the amount of joy you see brought to your child's face while squishing that mud between their toes is totally worth it. Plus, it's been proven that dirt helps strengthen our immune systems!
  • Don't wait for "perfect" weather: Perfect weather is a pretty rare thing, so if you skip out on all the "imperfect" days you're not left with much opportunity to be outdoors. Raining a bit? Go splash in puddles. Snowing? Bundle up and make a fort or a snowman. These memories will help shape your children in to adaptable adults. 
  • Incorporate wild edibles in to your meals: Ontario is home to many different wild edibles that can easily be incorporated in to your meals at home. Foraging for these scrumptious morsels can be a fun and educational activity for family members of all ages, and being able to prepare and eat what you've discovered is a very rewarding experience. To help get you started on what to look for, check out 15 Wild Plants You Can Eat by Outdoor Canada. *Note: We also have several poisonous plants, so don't go out foraging without properly identifying specimens or you may find yourself spending a night in the ER.
  • Make it a game: With the help of citizen science apps such as iNaturalisteBird, and the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas you can help turn the great outdoors in to a real-life version of Pokemon Go! These smartphone apps allow you to photograph, identify, and map all species of flora and fauna, while helping conservation initiatives and scientific studies all across the globe. While you're still technically in front of a screen when these apps are in use, they are an excellent tool especially for older children who may be accustomed to being indoors, and have a difficult time finding a reason to be outside. 
  • Bring nature to you: For those who live in an urban setting or have transportation or mobility issues, it can be difficult to find or get to any sort of "green space". In these circumstances you can try bringing nature to you by setting up a bird feeder like our WBU Window Feeder which suctions directly to your window, or planting a container garden of native flowers such as wild rose, wild bergamot, or milkweed to attract pollinators.
  • Incorporate nature in to your indoor-time: Even when not outdoors, we can help our children learn more about nature by incorporating it in to our indoor-time. This can be done through books, educational television programs (one of my personal Netflix favourites is Puffin Rock 😉), and crafts. Click here for a great list of nature-inspired crafts for kids.

When all is said and done, it really comes down to us - the parents/guardians. We, as role models, have the enormous task of helping shape and mold our sweet tiny humans in to the next stewards of this Earth. A task that cannot be accomplished in two hours per week. As Canadians we are fortunate to have abundant green spaces, and thousands of lakes and rivers just waiting to be explored. So what are you waiting for? Get outside and play!

Happy Trails!
- Shayna

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