Learning lessons in the Great Outdoors

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 3:50 pm

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir, founding president of Sierra Club

Not spending time outdoors may be making kids sick. Literally. According to the author of Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, too much time indoors can lead to "nature deficit disorder."

In addition to writing extensively on the importance of connections between humans and nature, Louv refers to a growing body of research linking experiences in the natural world with a range of benefits for children, including increased psychological and physical health. According to experts, there are a number of factors that could account for the benefits of green space.

From studies pointing to the virtues of natural light to fresh air and greater opportunities for incorporating exercise, the great outdoors deliver positive results. Much of the relief may simply come from just being able to de-stress.

Being surrounded by technology, it’s easy to forget that our bodies and minds need to have time for nature. But since the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden at Selby Gardens opened last November, families have been rediscovering togetherness from an entirely new perspective.

You don’t have to hike the Grand Canyon or canoe down the Mississippi to find locations to reconnect. Here in Southwest Florida we have a backyard with considerable natural space available for exploration and discovery.

Here are some suggested nearby ways to unplug and reconnect:

1. Make being outside a ritual. Go for a morning or evening walk every day. If you have pets, bring them along -- outdoor exercise is good for Fido, too.

2. Try gardening. From planting a vegetable garden to planting a few flowers, both activities get you outside regularly, communing with nature and being with your kids.

3. Consider “staycationing” and visiting some of the local spots that attract national and international visitors year-round. Parks, beaches, botanical gardens and wildlife preserves are plentiful in this area.

4. Find a trail. Whether hiking or biking is your speed, there are trails galore throughout the two-county region.

5. The next time you need a break, find a quiet outdoor setting and just drink in the natural beauty. Notice the scents, sights and sounds as you sit quietly and focus on the moment.

6. Visit a local park. Ask others in your neighborhood which park is their favorite, then trade your usual gym workout for an outdoor one!

7. Search local sources for outdoor summer camps, programs and activities especially suited to the ages and interests of your children.

8. Go birding. Children are naturally curious, and love to investigate. Listen for different bird calls right in your own back yard.

9. Join a club or make your own: There are many local clubs that host nature-related events, and it's a fun way to participate in your community. By meeting and joining other families in your area, you may find it’s easier to commit when there social connections.

10. Visit a wildlife refuge. This is a great way to have fun while learning and engaging with your children in the natural world. It’s also provides an excellent opportunity to use observational skills and learn about different habitats.

Additional Resources

Selby Gardens Education Central

Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida

Manatee County’s Natural Resources Department

Discover Natural Sarasota County

Sarasota Audubon Society

Manatee –Sarasota Group of the Sierra Club

Florida Youth Conservation Corps

Interactive trails guide

Nature Conservancy

Children & Nature Network

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