After months of studying parenting magazines and agonizing over the perfect name, months of wondering what color her hair will be or if she’ll have dimples, of daydreaming ahead to her enrollment at an ivy-league school or reception of the Nobel Peace Prize, when the big day comes and our baby finally makes her entrance into the world we are thrilled with the utterly simple: ten fingers, ten toes, and the realization that all that ever really mattered to us was holding a healthy, healthy child.
All parents want what’s best for their kids, and after getting over the excitement of ten fingers and ten toes, most do everything in their power to give their children the right resources to learn and grow. Traditionally this has meant setting proper sleep schedules, providing nutritious meals or reading bedtime stories. But for the new, technology-savvy parents of Generation Y, the moms and dads who grew up in the internet-age of constant information, the right resources has come to mean interactive learning tools like Baby Einstein–a line of multimedia products for 3-month-olds to 3-year-olds that were designed to boost cognitive development. Hoping for the happiest, healthiest and brightest children, these parents put their trust in technology.
Yet despite the marketing successes of Baby Einstein and other interactive products, studies overwhelmingly indicate that a new approach is needed. To be clear, the time has come to trade in the screens for a little bit of green.
In the early 1980s, Harvard University biologist Edward Wilson developed a theory of “biophilia,” the idea that people have an innate affinity for the natural world. Removed from our natural environment, we face innate feelings of restlessness and alienation which may be detrimental to physical and mental health, and the same holds true for children.
Most of us have probably heard about these studies, about the results which confirm that unstructured outdoor play can improve children’s psychological and bodily health by reducing stress, improving concentration and encouraging physical fitness. But did you know that nature actually has viable HEALING powers as well?
During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of studies showed that the mere act of looking at the outdoors can have direct benefits for hospital patients, office workers, prison inmates and car commuters. Indeed, a view of nature was found to help reduce blood pressure, headaches and illnesses, while also leading to greater job satisfaction among workers and quicker recovery rates for post-operative patients. It’s not surprising, then, that doctors are increasingly issuing “green prescriptions,” advising patients to battle their ailments with some exercise and time outside.
By looking at life through nature, or leaving our apartments and entering into life via nature, we gain a little bit of life ourselves. Just imagine how our kids might benefit. So put away the Baby Einstein toys, turn off the television and go take your children outside. Enjoying nature can be as easy as walking out your front door and finding some chalk to play hopscotch, or encouraging a game of tag in the backyard. Take a look at some of these other fun activities for ideas.
When it comes to helping our kids love nature, the options are endless and the need is real. Indeed, if you’re looking to give them all the resources to grow and learn–to ensure the health you came to love years ago when you first counted those ten fingers and ten toes–a little dirt and sunshine is just be what the doctor ordered.