The day my son was introduced to real mountains, the Rockies of Colorado, he was awestruck. “Holy mac!” he exclaimed. Short for mackerel, apparently. We were driving up I70, deep into the rocky terrain, with peaks all around us. “Wow! It’s beautiful, right Mom? Let’s hike to the top of the mounts’!” He was into abbreviating his words this vacation. It was beautiful, so beautiful. We did end up taking him hiking on that trip, but turns out, despite the enthusiasm, his little three year old legs weren’t quite up to the task of summiting. Maybe when he gets older.
No one teaches us to love the earth. It’s in us. Babies giggle at playing in the dirt, attempt to climb trees the moment their limbs are long enough to reach the first branch, and display wonderment at rippling water long before they can form proper words. Given this innate drive within us to seek nature, it’s not surprising that there are a wild array of health benefits to spending time in the great outdoors.
We absorb vitamin D through our skin on sunny days. Kids with ADHD have improved concentration when they play outside. Feeling down? Walking outdoors can enhance mood, energize us, and spark creativity. There is a reason sound machines for sleep come preloaded with recordings of waves, the whales, crickets chirping and even frogs croaking – nature relaxes us, soothes our stressors, and brings us to rest. Personally, I’ve found that if my one year old is crying or cranky, simply opening the back door and allowing her to feel the sun on her face or breeze blowing through her hair can lift her spirits. This is not just coincidence, this is science!
Earth Day gives us a moment to reflect and remember. To remember the stirrings in our soul and the benefits to our physical bodies that arise simply from being amid the trees. It’s also a day to consider that it’s up to us to care for our planet so that our kid’s kids can enjoy nature as we know it. Though we don’t have to teach the children to love the outdoors, it is our responsibility to nurture a spirit within them that respects the earth through their actions.
Just this week my son asked if he could throw his straw’s wrapper on the ground when we were outside. It’s not the first time he’s asked to simply drop his trash instead of searching for an appropriate receptacle. Of course you can’t litter! Yet, I definitely tossed some items in the main trash this week that should have been recycled. Honestly, we’re both guilty of the same thing – a lackadaisical attitude and, if I’m being frank, laziness. Attitudes toward the environment start at home and for me it’s a work in progress. I love the outdoors but I do not always make the best environmental choices. I leave lights on, take long showers, and eat plenty of processed food stored in wasteful packaging. Heck, I’m also guilty of letting the kids watch movies on days they should definitely be playing outside (on days they’d be happier playing outside!)
Today, for Earth Day and beyond, consider the example we’re setting for our kids. Consider the ways we could do better. I’m not suggesting we all go purchase carbon credits or that cloth diapering is for everyone (I do disposables.) Rather, motivate yourself toward small changes that might foster a conservationist spirit within our kids or engage them in activities that nurture their natural love for the outdoors (and give them the bonus of a health boost!) Read on for some ideas.
1. Bring the crayons and colored pencils outside and have your kiddos draw what they see or what they find beautiful. It’s fun to notice what they notice – is their focus on the brilliant sky or a smooth pebble on the ground. Or, as would be with my child, the fallen tree branch that looks like a lightsaber.
2. Take a nature walk or a stroll through a green space letting the kids lead. Trail behind their pace without a goal in mind. You will move slowly. Very slowly. At least that’s what’s happened in my experience, but try to relax and let it be. Kids are super curious and watching them get distracted by a clover patch or a particularly intriguing tree gives the adult mind space to appreciate something we may not have otherwise seen.
3. If the water is safe in your town, drink it! Give up bottled water and fill a reusable vessel from the tap.
4. Consider cloth napkins at home. The investment will ultimately pay for itself when you add up the cost of buying, and re-buying, disposable paper napkins.
5. Take a “field trip” to the local dump to talk to your kids about where trash and recyclables end up after being collected by the garbage truck.
6. Read “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss. Naysayers may feel it’s a bit extremist, one-sided, even dark at times, but if you can get past the critics, I feel it’s an excellent read and conversation starter for the elementary aged child. No need to buy; any library worth its salt will have a copy.
7. Pick up litter from public spaces. The more you do it the more it becomes a habit.
8. Plant something edible. Even if it’s just a bean from the pantry into a soil-filled can. Kids love learning how to grow things and it helps them wrap their heads around the mystery of where food comes from.
9. Let your littles play in dirt, jump in leaf piles, splash in puddles, and run around in the rain. Sensory experiences such as these enliven the spirit. Yeah, it’s messy, but kids are washable.
10. Encourage your kids to donate used clothes and toys instead of throwing them away. In turn, accept the hand-me-downs of others and consider buying second hand. Consumerism is addictive and it’s growing our landfills exponentially. I’m bad at this. I just bought my son a new water bottle because he desperately wanted the type his friend from preschool has. One day at a time, one battle at a time. We’re all just doing the best we can.
Happy Earth Day!
On Loving the Earth by Sarah Kiser, CPNP-PC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.