I have always been an outdoors lover. I grew up way up in upstate New York, across the street from a cow farm with a forest and a lake in our backyard. We would walk down the street to pick berries and go to the cider mill for apple cider in the fall. My father was a hunter and a fisherman, and we spent summers at firehouse picnics in the park in town.
When we moved to New Jersey, I still sought the outdoors. I walked to and from school every day, and as I got older I began seeking out hiking trails across northern NJ. We walked the dog and played in the streams, catching newts and salamanders. And when it came time to settle down, I married an outdoors man, a man who spends his spring months fishing on the river in Pennsylvania with his father and grandfather, and summers relaxing on the beach. I continued hiking on the weekends, and when we bought our home in 2014, we chose a home in a lake community close to those same hiking trails that I played on as a kid. We spend our summers now in our backyard with our children, and I have started to teach them how to hike and my husband walks them to the pond down the street to catch large mouth bass and frogs on lazy summer evenings.
We are all a part of Mother Earth, and she is a piece of us. When we breathe, if we listen, we can hear her oceans. If we are kind to her animals, they are kind to us. We should take no more than we need, as she is always willing to give. I find myself drawn to the outdoors even in this freezing cold weather, as her cool air replenishes and calms me. Sometimes, when the chaos in my mind is out of control, all it takes is to step out onto my back deck and take a deep breath of cool air to refocus my mind.
In this teched-out, stressed-out society that we live in, it can be difficult to hear the rhythms of our Mother Earth calling to us. As a mother, it is more difficult still, as we are in tune with our children's rhythms, abandoning our own for the time being. When I began thinking about this question, I thought about Forest Baths, and all of the benefits of being outside. Being outside can clear your mind, focus your thoughts, improve your circulation and energy levels. In fact, being outside is so beneficial that some doctors have begun writing prescriptions for outdoor exercise rather than medications. However, teaching our children to love our Mother Earth is even more important, especially today.
According to Michele Munz of the St. Louis Post, "Today's youth spend just four to seven minutes outside each day in unstructured outdoor play such as climbing trees, building forts, catching bugs or playing tag, studies show. Yet, they spend more than seven hours each day in front of a screen" (2010). I am sad to say that there are some days when my children are definitely part of this trend. In fact, as I write this, Jane and Emma are watching a movie so that I can focus and get my work done. But what we need to focus on, as a society, is a collective movement towards getting kids back outdoors, for the sake of their own development.
Approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a report from 2011-2012 (no updated information was present) ("Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)," 2018). The disorder can impair academic progress and socialization. In 2010, The National Wildlife Federation released a report that showed "that in the past 20 years, the use of antidepressants in pediatric patients has risen sharply, and the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world" (Munz, 2010). But this can change. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that simply being outside "significantly reduced ADHD symptoms such as inattention and impulsivity of children" (Munz, 2010). So why aren't we getting these kids out into nature?
A survey in 2009 by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of children ages 8 to 17 reported increasing stress levels, and with our connected society, this figure is only going to increase. As a teacher, I see how attached adolescents are to their devices, and teen suicide caused by social media exposure is on the rise.
Mindfully disconnecting and getting back outdoors could help decrease stress levels and quiet the noise in the mind. The benefits of spending time with Mother Earth FAR outweigh any perceived detriment. It's time to get back to nature. She is waiting patiently for us.
Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (2018, January 24). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html (Links to an external site.)
Humana inc.; humana's park prescription program evaluates health benefits of spending time outdoors. (2016, Aug 22). Mental Health Weekly DigestRetrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1812280721?accountid=158302
Munz, M. (2010, Sep 23). Playing outdoors vital for kids, report finds; when children stay inside too much, behavioral problems tend to mount. St.Louis Post - Dispatch Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/754994863?accountid=158302