Charlotte Mason was a big proponent of daily time outside and nature walks. She recommended four-six hours per day of time outside. This may seem a little extreme but outside time has some major benefits.
I look at this from not only the perspective of a homeschooling mom but that of a Nurse. Much of what occurs on a nature walk can be naturally therapeutic and may even provide some wellness benefits. Below are seven benefits of going on a nature walk.
1. A Living Education
Nature offers so much visual and kinesthetic hands on learning its astounding. I think with the abundance of technology that surrounds us now, we tend to forget all that nature offers us. Observing, discussing, and drawing the life cycle of various animals, plants, and insects. Interacting within a body of water, exploring what lives within the habitat and discussing ecosystems. The water cycle, the weather, taking water and soil samples, examining rocks, trees, and watching life emerge from a cocoon. Bring along a living book and find something in nature to go along with it. It provides a reading lesson and living science at the same time.
2. Physical Education
The walk itself and sometimes the hike depending on terrain, provides physical exercise. It builds strength and endurance not only by walking, but by the actual play that occurs in nature. The body becomes more agile by engaging in balancing walks across fallen trees or jumping stone to stone across a shallow stream. Children tone and strengthen their muscles by hopping, skipping, jumping, climbing, pushing, and pulling while they explore and play through their nature walk.
3. Mental And Emotional Health
Far too often I hear parents making the choice to medicate their children. Either it be behavioral problems, Poor attention, or both. I know it probably was a hard choice to make and a long road to get to that point. Often prompted by teachers and reoccurring incidents within the school system. More and more school aged children are being placed on ADHD meds and some even anti-physchotics. To me, this is evidence of a system that is sick, not the child.
Medicating children with these kinds of meds come with the cost of side effects. Side effects are like a box of chocolates-you never no which one you are going to get. Medicine isn’t healthcare it is sick care. All other measures should be exhausted first but it seems anymore it is the go to solution.
There is a more natural, holistic option that is effective-such as nature walks. In these cases, think of Nature Walks as daily medicine best taken before lessons. A study conducted by The American Journal Of Public Health concluded that “green outdoor settings appear to significantly reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.”
Another study conducted by the NIH found that individuals who engaged in “forest therapy” (sitting in nature) noted a “12.4% decrease in cortisol level, 7.0% decrease in sympathetic nervous activity, 1.4% decrease in systolic blood pressure, and 5.8% decrease in heart rate. This shows that stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy. It should also be noted that parasympathetic nerve activity increased by 55.0%, indicating a relaxed state.” My apologies if I nerded out on you for a second, if it was too much just remember nature is good for your mental and emotional health.
4. Preventative Care
Vitamin D makes it possible for the body to absorb calcium, it also plays a role in muscle and immune function. Depression can sometimes be caused by low levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D may even play a role in preventing certain types of cancers, high blood pressure, and MS. Our bodies need exposure to the sun in order to synthesize Vitamin D and in northern climates we need even more of it due to our long winters.
The same study conducted by the NIH demonstrated that “immune functions are enhanced by forest therapy. Middle-aged employees volunteered to participate in these experiments. NK (natural killer cells) activity, as an indicator of immune function, increased by 56% on the second day and returned to normal levels. A significant increase of 23% was maintained for 1 month even after these subjects returned to urban life.”
5. Natural Sensory Therapy
Most of us are familiar with our five senses, sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. Some however might not realize we have two more senses-vestibular and proprioception. The vestibular sense is how motion, equilibrium, and spatial awareness is processed. Proprioception is ones awareness of spatial orientation within ones environment.
Healthy children need sensory stimulation in order to continue to develop well, those with sensory issues need even more sensory exposure. Children with sensory processing dysfunction may even require sensory therapy. I’ve seen and have created countless sensory bins, I mean it is a regular pin on Pinterest.
With nature walks all of our senses are engaged and naturally stimulated by interacting with the water, dirt, mud, plant life, animal life, and anything within nature we are exposed to. Balancing on stones and fallen tree trunks not only develops muscle tone but regular exposure helps develop vestibular and proprioceptive aspects of the brain. There is so much to touch, see, hear, smell, and even taste that is in nature.
6. What About Mom And Dad?
Often as moms and dads we are putting our kids first and ourselves last. Not getting enough exercise or any for that matter. When nature walks are done as a family both mom and dad reap the benefits too. I love and look forward to our nature walks as much and maybe more than the kids.
7. Character Development
Small challenges and physical obstacles occur when we are out in nature. This provides opportunities for my children to perservere through them. It may be hard, difficult, and sometimes I sense a little fear but as long as it’s safe I can encourage them through it.
For instance, balancing across a fallen down tree trunk. This is one way I’ve begun to instill a positive self image and started the phrase, “I am brave, I am strong.” I have them replace that apprehension (negative thought) with that phrase, So that they can be self reliant in their perserverence.
While to some Charlotte Mason’s methods may seem a little dated. When I really delved into the research nature walks are still highly beneficial. Besides the obvious educational benefit and physical exercise, nature walks provide major positive health benefits as well. Incorporating nature walks into our homeschool has ensured a whole child holistc living education. Which makes this mama really happy. What are your thoughts on nature walks?