“Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the woods
Did you know that being in nature actually increases serotonin and dopamine? Both serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters in our brain that are responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body. Serotonin is responsible for many functions such as memory, sleep, behavior, and appetite. Dopamine is one of the “feel good” chemicals in our brain. Interacting with the pleasure and reward center of our brain, dopamine — along with other chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins — plays a vital role in how happy we feel. In addition to our mood, dopamine also affects movement, memory, and focus. Being outside can help stop obsessive thoughts! Have you ever noticed that when you are in nature, you feel an almost instantaneous sense of peace and contentment? Researchers have found that hiking especially helps with stopping negative, compulsive thoughts. Studies have also found that creative problem solving can be improved by completely disconnecting from technology and connecting with nature. Hiking can also improve ADHD and anxiety. A study found that exposing children with neurodiversity to outdoor activities reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.
I began studying and learning more about this after I saw how true this was for our family. My name is Amber and my husband is Nathan and we live in Newark, Delaware. We have two children that we adopted as infants. When our youngest, who is now 9, was struggling in preschool, we discovered that nature was so helpful for her. She experienced prenatal trauma and continues to struggle with impulsivity and regulating her emotions. When she was in kindergarten, we made the decision to bring her home and homeschool her. The school environment was just so stimulating and overwhelming for her. Because I knew how much she came alive in nature, I began doing as much as I could to expose her to it. I started up a homeschool hiking chapter called Wild and Free. We hike almost every week with other homeschooling families. That gives her and the other children a chance to not only experience nature, but develop their social skills with others in nature. It has been so healing for our whole family. We’ve made some of the most amazing memories and had the most interesting conversations while hiking or experiencing nature together. Connection is so important for any families, but especially those with trauma history. Nature also helps with racing thoughts that keep you awake! One other amazing benefit to nature experiences is, SLEEP!! Everyone will sleep so much better after soaking up some vitamin D! Early Spring or fall is my favorite time to hike – there are fewer bugs and the weather is more moderate. You get to see all the green popping up around you or colors changing in the fall.
Here are some of my tips for getting out in nature, especially when you have littles ones that are not as excited as you may be after reading this:
1. Include them in the planning. I use the AllTrails app often and we hunt for spots, read descriptions and look at photos to help them be a part of planning and get them excited.
2. Invite friends! Friends seem to make everything more exciting for my kids! It can be lots of friends or just one or two friends.
3. Even if you have to drive a little ways, finding new spots to explore is always super helpful for our family.
4. Make plans for a fun stop after the adventure. It doesn’t have to be monetary - it can be their favorite playground to play, plan to watch a movie or a show, or grab a simple @chickfila kid’s cone!
5. Read books about nature with your children! One of my children’s favorites is Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman.
6.. BONUS TIP - have FUN! The more you do this, the more they’ll be up for an adventure the next time 🙌🏽🙌🏽!
I found a blog post that was very interesting from a survivor of childhood trauma of how much nature helped in their trauma recovery. https://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/blog/awareness/how-nature-has-grounded-me-in-the-here-and-now-during-trauma-recovery
Feel free to follow along with me on instagram as I chronicle many nature adventures: https://www.instagram.com/bumberjoy/
Here are a few book recommendations:
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
Outdoor Kids in an Inside World by Steven Rinella
Adventuring Together: How to Create Connections and Make Lasting Memories with Your Kids
Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids
For those interested in homeschooling:
The call of the Wild and Free by Ainsly Arment
Wild and Free Nature: 25 Outdoor Adventures for Kids to Explore, Discover, and Awaken Their Curiosity
Amber Hauser is a mom to two great kids, a lover of the outdoors, Young Living leader, and a homeschool mamma. She and her family live in Delaware.