Between family bonding, lessons in self-reliance and physical challenges, a summer whitewater rafting adventure or backwoods camping trip is likely an experience your family will never forget. But it doesn’t take a stockpile of gear from REI or the best rated outdoor app to get some of the purest and most needed benefits of the outdoors for you and your kids. Your outdoor family time can be as simple as taking a walk outdoors with your kids.
A family nature walk doesn’t have to be ambitious. In fact, it’s best kept simple. You don’t need to research the best trail or the least discovered natural area. And while you can certainly head out to the nearest park, you can simply take a walk in your neighborhood. Really, all you need is a sidewalk or a safe path to walk on and some nature along the way.
And that is literally all you’re going to do. Walk. And observe. Don’t be task-minded. Don’t take nature-based curriculum or props such as nature bingo or scavenger hunt printouts with you. Leave your goals behind. Keep stress to a minimum and just bring some snacks and water and leave your plan behind. Don’t worry. The benefits are built-in.
Along your walk, remember it is key to let your kids set the pace. Trust your kids on this walk. Don’t get frustrated when they stop walking to explore. This will make the experience worth it in their eyes. How often do they have the chance to do things their way, without a start time, being rushed, or on a deadline? Let them stop to find just the right sized stick and then take it for a spin in a (safe) sword-fighting match.
If your children have questions along the way, you can either answer (if you can) or teach your children to trust their own instincts and observations as scientists do. Ask them to make an educated guess and you can research the question. Just don’t make the walk into a chore for them with too many lessons and instruction. And try to not to whip out your phone to Google the answer. Yes, technology is valuable BUT this is sacred time for tuning out of screens and tuning into nature. The phone will inevitably become a distraction, and it also sends the children a message that technology has all of the answers.
Once you slow down the pace, you can all take more notice of the natural world. After all, we all need to engage our senses, kids, in particular. Remember that your only goal is to be in the present. To take notice. To use your senses. After your kids have been able to take the lead, and get their sillies out, tell them it’s time to tune into their superpowers-- their senses. The nature in our neighborhoods or neighborhood parks is bursting with sensory information ready to be take in. They may hear the chirp of a sparrow for the first time and be able to differentiate it from the rasp of a starling. Or maybe they “discover” the favored pollination spot of the neighborhood bees. And when using your senses to interpret natural surroundings, you are feeding your senses with good things. Your senses not only get a break from the overstimulation of the digital world. But they take in the natural sights, sights, sounds, breezes, smells. After all, you are what you sense.
If you want to get deeper into the senses, you might want to find a quiet place in nature to explore mindfulness or a nature meditation with your kids. Mindfulness is when you tune into your surroundings, becoming fully present to the world around you. For kids, practicing mindfulness at an early age can lead to improved executive functioning skills, attention, emotional regulation, organizational abilities, and more. Studies show that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances wellbeing. Experts also say that practicing mindfulness can enhance our self-understanding, reduce stress and improve mental health. A few benefits we could all use!
If you're ready to go one step deeper in mindfulness and do a family nature meditation, this is a great way to get your family connected to natural surroundings. You can design your own nature meditation or use this one from author Mark Coleman.
So enjoy your nature walk together with no pressure and no expectations. Just be open to what flies or buzzes by and be prepared to never quite see the outdoors the same way again.