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Immerse yourself in the Outdoors

Under the ‘Ole Oak Tree – Outdoor Action Committee

Kelly Srigley Werner OAKs Committee Chair and Kathy Craig OAKs Education Sub-Committee

Missourians and the nation have been dealing with unprecedented challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic.  The OAKs Committee is an advocate for the outdoors and the principles of how important natural places are for emotional and physical wellbeing.

It’s hard, during times of uncertainty and stress to find a silver lining in this crisis, but a few things come to mind: more time together as a family, creative ways to keep kids entertained and engaged while keeping learning fun, gardening and baking.

Throughout the spring, typical activities slowed in Missouri enabling us to observe and see things maybe we hadn’t for some time due to busy and often complicated lifestyles.  Things like a spider building a web, a songbird we never saw or heard before, a night sky filled with stars and the slow transition out of the cold of winter.  The virus may be around for a while, which means we need to adjust to a new normal to keep ourselves and those around us safe.  The OAKs Committee’s Education Sub-committee wanted to point out some real benefits of being outdoors that will contribute to your health and wellness and also provides some resources to help maintain safe distances, engage your mind, and fun ways to discover nature no matter if you are a novice or a veteran naturalist.

For adults, did you know:  Studies have shown that walking in the woods can improve blood pressure, boosts mental health and immune systems, and decreases cancer risk. Walking in nature could improve your short-term memory.  Spending time outside reduces inflammation and sunlight mitigates pain as well as provides vitamin D. Outdoor experiences can help fight depression and anxiety. Being outdoors can eliminate fatigue and give you more energy, may improve eyesight, can help you stay focused and increases creativity. Read more about it: https://www.businessinsider.com/why-spending-more-time-outside-is-healthy-2017-7 and https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/70548/11-scientific-benefits-being-outdoors.

For children, did you know: Science has shown being in nature builds confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, and provides different stimulation centered on seeing, touching, hearing, and smelling. Getting outside gets kids moving and thinking, they lose weight and stay more focused and as they discover more, they ask more questions which can be especially positive for kids with Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD).  Experiencing the outdoors also reduces stress and reduces fatigue.  Read more about it: https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/ and https://www.nwf.org/Home/Kids-and-Family/Connecting-Kids-and-Nature/Health-Benefits-and-Tips.

Simply put, being outdoors heals the mind, body and spirit https://www.nwf.org/Home/Kids-and-Family/Connecting-Kids-and-Nature/Health-Benefits-and-Tips.  Reaping the benefits of being outdoors does not have to be structured like organized sports or an exercise regimen.  The Oaks Education Sub-Committee has explored ways to help so in these trying times you have a guide on how to get kids and yourselves to absorb the magic of nature in ways that can be fun and involve the entire family.

Richard Louv, esteemed author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” recently wrote of ways to deal with the virus and our isolation by getting outside, whether you live in the city, a small town or in the country.  One idea: pick a “sit spot” where you know it both in day and night and in all kinds of weather, where you can identify/observe birds, small mammals, and the vegetation. This can be in the back yard or at a nearby park.  Visit that spot frequently with an activity to get you immersed.  Find your inner artist, poet, biologist, writer, teacher, etc., and take advantage of the things you see while interpreting that sense of wonder through an activity. https://www.childrenandnature.org/2020/03/16/10-nature-activities-to-help-get-your-family-through-the-pandemic/.

Take a hike along a trail in the forest/grassland of a Missouri Department of Conservation Management Area, A Department of Natural Resources State Park, A U.S. Forest Service National Forest, a National Wildlife Refuge, or a local city park.  Make the hike fun by turning it into a scavenger hunt to find 10 critters or signs of critters (foot prints, scat), 10 tree leaves/flowers, etc..  Let kids use imaginations by bringing along some props/costumes.  Take pictures of the flowers and identify them when you get home or have a flower art contest.  For hot summer days visit a stream and explore the water’s edge make a log of what you see. Make sure you are keeping social distances while on public lands for the safety of everyone.

Plant a native pollinator garden in the backyard.  To attract monarch butterflies, remember to plant native milkweed like common, swamp, and butterfly. https://www.moprairie.org/GrowNative has excellent advice.

Welcome the birds by putting out a bird feeder near a window, then visit Audubon.org for information on the birds you see or download Merlin Bird ID to your smart phone and have an interactive opportunity to learn about birds, their songs and where they live.

There are some valuable resources that you can take advantage of to help you and your family connect with nature.  Take advantage of time to nurture yourself and others by being outdoors.  Here are some additional resources to help you, all it takes is a little review and soon you will be making your own outdoor adventures outside that will make the best memories for you and your family:

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/teacher-portal

https://dnr.mo.gov/education/hkfc.htm

https://www.nwf.org/Kids-and-Family/Connecting-Kids-and-Nature

https://outdoorclassroomday.com/resources/

https://activeforlife.com/18-ways-to-get-kids-outside/

https://healthpoweredkids.org/lessons/get-out-and-enjoy-nature/

https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/act-locally/connecting-youth-with-nature/

https://www.fws.gov/refuges/features/health-and-nature.html

 

For more information on the science of the healing power of the outdoors visit:

https://positivepsychology.com/positive-effects-of-nature/

https://naturemed.org/contact-with-nature-is-good-for-your-health/

 

While there is uncertainty in what lies ahead related to the pandemic and Covid-19, we can find ways to deal with that in a positive way helping each other connect to nature in valuable ways for our wellbeing.

Be safe, stay healthy and immerse yourself in nature.

 

*This article previously published in the Conservation Federation Magazine here:  https://issuu.com/missouriwildlife/docs/july_2020_vol_81_no_4/6

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