On a somewhat regular basis, I try to make sure my kids get outside and eat some dirt. Just kidding about the eating it part! But, we definitely get out to play in the dirt. We ‘garden’ together. The gardening usually consists of me putting plants and soil in pots, then my five year old moving all around - barefooted - digging either in the pots or in the ground, finding worms, collecting acorn ‘hats,’ and finally plunging herself onto the grass. I love watching her freely roll around like a puppy or just stare up in wonder at the sky through the trees. My one year old usually ends up digging up the plants that I put in the pots or takes the dirt out promptly after it’s been put in and will proceed to shovel her mouth full of dirt or rocks or whatever else she can get her hands on. Don’t worry, she doesn’t end up actually swallowing any rocks!
We stay outside as long as we can, and when we come in, usually one or both of the them protest it. We are covered in grass stains, have dirty hands and feet, and more than likely end up right in the bath. What I’ve noticed with this consistent outside time is the balance it brings in our moods, the difference in my kids attention spans, and how much calmer and more confident I feel as a woman and a mother. We go exploring different natural environments too, which recently reminded me of when I was a kid, visiting my grandparents’ secluded home - in between forest land and some cherry orchards in Oregon.
My childhood was full of adventures, exploring the woods and creeks on my grandparents property! It was glorious and shaped so much of who I am today. I feel desperate to recreate those moments for my own kids and am sad for other kids who don’t have that opportunity. Unfortunately, unstructured outdoor play is no longer the norm for American children.
We are encouraged to get our kids into ‘team’ activities that make up the majority of their relationship with the natural outer world. That is, if they are even engaged in an activity that requires them to be outside. Richard Louv (2005), who wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, describes the movement of our children’s playtime from outdoor to indoor spaces. Louv (2005) suggests that we can readily heal from whatever is making us ill by exposure to nature:
“...nature comes in many forms...whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion. Nature can frighten a child, too, and this fright serves a purpose. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”
Louv’s article is an absolutely fantastic read, I highly recommend it, but it’s too long to highlight every study he references. Suffice it to say there is a lot of evidence arguing in favor of reconnecting with the natural world as a means of improving overall health, for our kids and ourselves. The message is simple, and it’s something that many of us heard as kids when growing up:
“Just go outside and play!”
Here are a few outdoor nature places in or near Sacramento that you can start to explore with your kids:
Effie Yeaw Nature Center - Nature preserve in Carmichael, CA
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail - American River Bike Trail from Folsom to Downtown Sacramento (Includes hiking trails, river access points, and horse trails to explore!)
Natomas Westside Path (Start at San Juan Reservoir Park)
Capitol Park Loop and Gardens (State Capital Park)
Creekside Park & Nature Area (2641 Kent Dr. Sac, CA 95821)
Enjoy and take care!
Seija Zimmerman, LMFT
Thrive Therapy & Counseling