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The natural world and all its wonders play a key role in our mental, emotional and physical well-being. Richard Louv provides invaluable tips on how the whole family can connect with nature to benefit from all her gifts.
In 2015, the leaders of the retail outdoor equipment Co-op REI made a big decision. They closed their doors on Black Friday, the biggest day in the global retail calendar. Instead, they encouraged their 12 000 employees to Opt Outside (#OptOutside), to reconnect with family and friends outdoors. Thousands of companies, as well as the national and state parks, followed REI’s lead. Millions of Americans took the day off to #OptOutside. The day was a great success.
To help promote #OptOutside, I wrote a piece for Children & Nature Network (C&NN) and The Huffington Post offering seven suggestions for connecting with nature — and suggesting that we go the next step, and #OptOutside all year long.
And again, last year, REI paid its employees to head outdoors on Black Friday. To promote the day, REI partnered with nonprofit organisations, government agencies and a short list of companies who care deeply for the outdoors. The Children & Nature Network is proud to have been one of those supporting partners. More than 6 million people, pets and organisations skipped the malls and spent the day outside, making Friday 25 November another great day outdoors.
COMMIT TO CONNECTING WITH NATUREOkay, taking every day off from work isn’t an option. But here’s what we can do: pledge to connect our kids and ourselves (and even our companies) to work throughout the year to give children, adults and communities the gifts of nature — to encourage them to take care of the natural world and themselves by experiencing its wonders as often as possible, a few minutes a day, a few hours a week, or even a few weeks a year. Throughout the year, I hope you’ll check out the Children & Nature Network website for new ideas.
My newest book Vitamin N: The Complete Guide to a Nature Rich Life offers 500 other ideas for opting outside all year. And here are seven suggestions drawn from Vitamin N:
Explore the universe togetherIn your child’s first months and years, and beyond, go to a park together, spread out a blanket, lie side by side for an hour or more; look up through moving leaves and branches at clouds or moon or stars. Bring water and milk. You may be there a long time.
Pick a ‘sit spot’Jon Young, pre-eminent nature educator and co-author of Coyote’s Guide, advises children and adults to find a special place, whether it’s under a tree at the end of the yard, a hidden bend of a creek, or a rooftop garden. ‘Know it by day; know it by night,’ he writes. ‘Know the birds that live there, know the trees they live in. Get to know these things as if they were your relatives . . . That is the most important thing you can do in order to excel at any skill in nature.’ While finding a sit spot may seem most appropriate for small children, everyone can use a special place in nature away from daily pressures and digital demands. Put together a family G.O. BagStuff a duffel bag with daypacks, a compass, binoculars, nature guides, and maybe a topo-map of your bioregion. Add granola bars, hats, gloves, fleece vests, sunglasses, collapsible hiking poles, some old hiking shoes or other comfortable footwear, and water bottles. Wrap your G.O. Bag. Stash it in your car trunk. Now your family can Go Outside at a moment’s notice.
Make the ‘green hour’ a new family tradition. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) recommends that parents give their kids a daily green hour for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. Can’t spare a green hour? Fifteen minutes is a good start. ‘Imagine a map with your home in the center. Draw ever-widening circles around it, each representing a successively older child’s realm of experience,’ NWF suggests. ‘Whenever possible, encourage some independent exploration as your child develops new skills and greater confidence.’
Purchase a family park passNational parks, national monuments, and some wildlife refuges and regional parks exist in urban as well as wilderness areas. Many parks charge for admission, but as Forbes magazine points out, they aren’t a bad deal when compared to other forms of recreation such as going to a movie or going bowling.
Start/Join a Family Nature ClubHere’s a way to create a community of support for parents and children: join an existing family nature club, or form a new one. It’s a great way to create a community of support for families. This same concept can be adopted by teens or adults without children of their own, in the form of friendship nature clubs.
Practise ‘friluftsliv’‘Friluftsliv’ is a Norwegian term, introduced in 1859, that roughly translates as ‘free air life’. It’s a general lifestyle idea that promotes outdoor activity as good for all aspects of human health. The protocol is pretty straightforward — just be outside as much as possible. Work it into your schedule by committing to being in nature for a minimum amount of time every day, or a certain number of days a month – and #OptOutside all year long. Copyright Richard Louv. All rights reserved.
For more information visit www.richardlouv.com andwww.childrenandnature.org
He is the author of eight books, most recently The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. This essay is adapted from his book, The Web of Life. He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network.
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