The value of spending time together outdoors…

IMG_3155The philosopher William James had a great term for it – “The sin of bustle.” Although written long before smartphones, email and social media, the term certainly fits our culture today. Busyness is clearly the norm, but unfortunately our frantic pre-occupation with time saving devices has ironically created less time for enjoying nature and the people around us.

Our bustling lives frequently crowd out outdoor experiences. Many kids wouldn’t even consider the outdoors as a place to spend the half hour before dinner. Why bother? The lure of interactive technology is too tempting. And “dinner” may just be a trip through a drive-thru on the way to yet another lesson, game, or practice.

Although there are many good reasons for taking children outdoors, this quote from Rachel Carson, really puts everything into perspective:

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Whether you call it a “sense of wonder” or the “wow” factor, it’s a response that is innate for all of us. I’m fascinated to watch toddlers interact with nature. Stones are reverently turned in little hands, flowers are gently sniffed, and even tiny insects are blessed with wide-eyed curiosity.

But that sense of wonder is not just a “little kid” thing. We really are better for allowing ourselves a little time to just be present in nature. Time in nature helps us to be happier, healthier and even smarter!

“Happier” refers to the emotional benefits of being outside. Stress levels of both adults and children fall after spending time in green spaces.

“Healthier” goes beyond just physical fitness, weight control and more Vitamin D. Some studies have found that outdoor activity may improve distance vision and lower the chance of nearsightedness.

“Smarter” is about the impact of the outdoors on learning. Camouflage becomes real when you spot an insect hidden on a tree trunk, or find parallel lines in the veins of a leaf. Schools are finding that achievement can be increased by outdoor learning activities.

Most importantly, however, is the opportunity that time outdoors provides for sharing experiences. As author Richard Louv says, “What better way to enhance parent-child attachment than to walk in the woods together, disengaging from distracting electronics, advertising, and peer pressure?”

Walking with someone in nature creates a special bond. Nature pulls at our senses and nudges us to pay attention both to our surroundings and to each other. Each of us can recall times when we walked in communion with each other, and with nature. That’s the companionship that Rachel Carson was talking about.

The best antidote for the “sin of bustle” may be found in nature. I agree with Rachel Carson, that by taking the time to share a few moments outside, we show the children in our lives that there is “joy, excitement and mystery in the world we live in.”

Copyright © 2016 by Herb Broda