As an OT interested in environmental health, I am excited to see how much more attention is being paid by health professionals to the importance of being outdoors in natural environments.
Time in nature is more than just something that 'feels good'. More time outdoors means less time indoors, where air quality is frequently much poorer. More time outdoors also addresses many physiological needs that improve physical and mental health, energy level, hormone balance, growth, and more. At its most basic, more time outdoors fills our evolutionary need and gives our bodies and minds the type of environment we are physiologically designed to thrive in.
I recommend more time outdoors surrounded by trees, or with sand between your toes, or soft grass to lie on for cloud gazing for families as a balm for virtually any of the challenges young families face. And I'm not alone. More Occupational Therapists are promoting outdoor time as an effective and evidence-based approach to a variety of challenges.
Kathleen Lockyer, an Occupational Therapist from California, has been 'prescribing' outdoor time for over 20 years. In April 2018, Kathleen co-led a keynote address at Guelph Outdoor School in Ontario, Canada on the importance of accessing the outdoors. Her website has helpful resources as does her former blog. The website RxOutside.com focuses on her Nature-Led (c) approach to supporting children.
Angela Hanscom is a paediatric Occupational Therapist whose TimberNook.com approach to taking OT outdoors for addressing such diverse issues as ADHD and autism, focuses on nature-based child-led activities. Based in New Hampshire, Angela's approach is now modelled through mentoring, training, and certification, with programs for children running in Calgary, Alberta, and Peterborough, Ontario.
OTs aren't the only ones developing unique nature-based programs for children. Growth in interest in Forest Schools in Canada, and in child-led outdoor programs like Erin Fleming's Little Seeds playgroup and Learning in the Woods alternative education in Hamilton, Ontario are providing ample opportunity for families who want to increase their child's time in nature. The motivation to access these programs comes in part from the aesthetics and romance of the outdoors and in part through a desire to address health and behavioural issues beyond prescriptive and medically-based approaches. Regardless of whether the reasons are romantic or a response to specific challenges, time outdoors is time well-spent.
Just as filling our plates with nature-based foods leaves less room for processed foods, filling our days with nature-based activities results in less time indoors. Considering the well-established evidence regarding poor air quality and its impact on child health, the more time we can spend time in healthy outdoor environments the better. Indoor Generations' compelling video on the hazards of indoor air quality on children is rather dark in its mood but reflects the current evidence on not only the proportion of time many children are spending indoors compared to previous generations, but also the reasons why indoor air quality tends to be so poor.
With several weeks of summer weather, and a beautiful shift to fall stretched out before us, there is ample time to rejig our days to focus more on access to the outdoors. With some attention to our routines, a motivation to shift how our time is spent, and a desire to access an effective and free 'treatment' for many of the things that ail us, summer is a terrific time to lay the ground-work for a nature-influenced childhood for our kids. The winter, while posing some practical and psychological hurdles, is also a wondrous time to access nature --with a bit of planning, the proper clothing, and a summer of rejigging priorities, our children can benefit from outdoor access year-round.
If you are looking for strategies to incorporate more outdoor time (including camping with kids!), and feel like making these kinds of changes is daunting, I consult to families who have questions or concerns about infant development, infant sleep, and parenting. Nature time supports all three of these areas, and I would be more than happy to support you.