The mindfulness movement has been sweeping through adult self-help shelves; should we then be helping our kids at the same time? Check out our wild and wonderful mindfulness hacks for the outdoors.
Numerous studies have confirmed that children have happier childhoods when they have spent much of it outdoors and in green spaces. People of all ages experience various health benefits from taking time-out in nature, both mentally and physically – so let’s find the best ways to give our kids the best start!
Dirty kids are happy kids
In our soil, there are loads of friendly bacteria swimming around. These little guys have been proven to affect the brain in the same way that antidepressants do; it releases more serotonin. Serotonin is often called the ‘happy chemical’ due to its role in the brain as a neurotransmitter linked to happiness and wellbeing. Next time you’re about to despair over your daughter’s muddy football shirt, or your son’s mud pies, remember that getting stuck into mud, soil and dirt enhances your child’s happiness.
Nature the new ADHD remedy
Spending time in a natural environment has been proven to reduce stress and restore attention. For parents raising kids today in a digital, instant-gratification environment, concerns have emerged about waning attention spans and hyperactive kids who don’t know how to slow down. Thankfully, time outdoors is the perfect remedy to overstimulation and short attention spans. In fact, exposure to green spaces every day has been noted as a potential treatment for children with ADHD.
Woodland walking for wellbeing
The Japanese art of shinrin-yoku – or, in other words, forest bathing – is one of the more recent eastern trends, but it is by no means a new idea. The Japanese Ministry of Health has advised taking a short, relaxed walk through the forest, under a canopy of green as an essential habit to a healthy and happy lifestyle. And they’ve been advising this since 1982! Simply surrounding your children with trees, letting them listen to the local sounds of birds and the breeze, and watching the sunlight filter through the leaves is a big wellbeing tick.
Natural light, sleep tight
One of the hardest parts of parenthood is managing sleeping patterns and nap times; it’s a bit of a yawn! It has long been known that our bodies are naturally tuned to the rising and setting of the sun, and blue light (the light from technology screens) disrupts this natural cycle. But recent research has gone a step further and shown that more time spent outside in the natural daylight improves sleep at night. In one study, infants from 6-12 weeks who were exposed to more afternoon sunlight slept significantly better at night. So get out that pram – it will do you some good too!
Banish the winter blues
Time spent outside in cloudy weather is just as good for kids as the summer sun. Even in winter, the sun can peak through the clouds, and in New Zealand, it’s just as green as summer. There are loads of activities to take advantage of in winter, just look to the natural world around you. We’ve compiled a list of our favourites below, from leaf art to mud kitchens.
Lovers of the classic kids’ book Winnie-the-Pooh will remember the fun game of Poohsticks, or Boat Races. Simply select a bunch of sticks (flower petals work too), and float them across a puddle, or under a bridge. The first object to the other side of the puddle/bridge wins. Grab a rain jacket with some pockets and you’re good to go.
Our bees are increasingly threatened by climate change. These little creatures carry around pollen, contributing to the growth of a third of the produce that we eat every day. We can lighten their load by providing baths for them to drink from. Mix up a teaspoon or so of sugar in a jug of water. Fill up a separate bowl with marbles. Pour the sugar-water mixture over the marbles and you’ve made a bee bath! Bees must have the marbles to land on so that they don’t drown when they drink
The great thing about art is there’s not one way to do it – kids can have a whole heap of fun exercising their creative muscles. Start by foraging for fallen leaves, or plucking leaves from trees and bushes. Make sure that you find leaves of every kind and colour for more variation in your kids’ art. Kids can layer the leaves to create the spikes of a hedgehog, or simply paint on the leaves (we advise looking up ‘leaf art’ on Pinterest for some epic ideas). Another fun way to make leaf art is to buy paper punches of all different shapes (hearts, butterflies) and punch your way through the leaves.
All you need is a piece of paper, a pencil and something to lean on. Kids can try mapping their backyards, and if that’s not enough of a challenge, there’s always the local park, or even nana’s garden. Once done exploring, you can add watercolours, or even 3D objects like sticks and leaves. If you want to take this exercise even further, try making a DIY compass or sundial.
Kids love splashing around and slapping together mud pies and potions. There’s no better time for this than winter. If you’ve got any old pots and pans, add them to this outside activity (cupcake cases also work well). Maybe you could even host your own, ‘My Mud Kitchen Rules’.
If you’re close to a beach, beach combing is a wonderful activity. Scour the shore for all the curiosities that the sea washes up. Kids could even keep their own catalogue of findings; ‘natural collections’ are always fun, from pine cones to pebbles to shells! If you want to stay at the beach a bit longer (without it getting too chilly), try a game of noughts and crosses in the sand, or even sand sculptures.
By Olivia Stanley
Source: ‘Growing up Wild.’ Alexia and Duncan Barrable, 2017.