Summer can be a stressful time for parents - kids are on a break from school, so there is extra entertainment, activities, and organization to fit into an already-busy schedule. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more complicated. Parents are taking on home-schooling, helping with online classes, and, in many areas, worrying about what the coming school year will look like in September. It’s vitally important for you and your child to take a break from screens and inside activities to spend time (safely) interacting with the natural world - the benefits might surprise you!
Parents have more on their plates now than ever, with many studies reporting negative impacts on moms’ mental health since COVID-19 began. It’s not easy managing the extra mental load that comes along with safety and organizational considerations of family routines and dynamics during a pandemic. Getting out in nature together with your child can not only provide an opportunity for bonding, but also help you de-stress, enjoy physical activity, and get some big breaths of fresh air.
You may have heard that active time spent outdoors is beneficial for children, but learning about the specific advantages that unstructured outdoor play can have for your child may still be an eye-opener!
If you are home-schooling or keeping up a form of educational curriculum for your child, it can be difficult to empower them to stay focused and attentive during lessons, especially as they may be more cooped up and antsy than usual at the moment. Ensuring they enjoy regular creative play and exercise out-of-doors can help them burn off excess energy in a constructive way, empowering them to be more settled, calm, and focused when they return to indoor activities.
Your child may also be getting more screen time than usual at the moment. It’s important to cope however you and your family need to during an unusual situation that can impact personal safety and energy, so don’t be hard on yourself if this is the case! However, turning the computer, tablet, or television off to spend time outdoors can offer a break for kids’ eyes and brains in favor of a different type of valuable sensory stimulation. Time spent in a different environment can also reduce screen fatigue, allowing them to then continue screen-based educational activities later.
Spending time in the natural world also positively impacts children’s learning and development. Cognitive development, motor skills, ability to concentrate, and goal setting and achievement in children are all areas which benefit from regular time spent outside. Additionally, many of the skills developed specifically through outside play can help build confidence, as well as benefit children later in life - such as physical fitness, and experienced knowledge of your region’s flora and fauna and geographic characteristics.
Nature time can provide a bolster to your child’s emotional wellbeing, too. Time spent outside, especially when coupled with physical activity, can trigger the release of endorphins, neurochemicals with mood-boosting properties. Your children may be experiencing higher levels of stress at the moment; outdoor activity can have benefits for restful sleep cycles and stress reduction. They may not be making high-stress decisions, but COVID-19 is likely to have skewed their normal routine and social life. Fun activities in the natural world can help mitigate their stress responses and improve their overall concentration and coping abilities.
If your child is neurodivergent and experiences a condition that impacts their ability to focus, such as ADHD, they may find there are even more barriers to their attentiveness and executive functioning abilities due to the ambient stress of the pandemic. Spending quality time outdoors, even in your own backyard, can be a supportive and helpful experience for kids who are already struggling with concentration.
Safety is, of course, essential for you and your family when evaluating trips outside the home. Follow the advice of your local health authority with regards to COVID-19 precautions, and avoid crowded areas for your child’s outside play time. Get creative - if you’re wanting to avoid a crowded local park, perhaps you can find an empty field or an easy trail, or even come up with some activities for play in your backyard.
Whatever your household’s strategies for COVID-19 may be, there are many challenges both for individuals and families. The ongoing emergency can weigh on our minds, causing adrenal fatigue due to our constant low-level flight-or-fight response, and creating stress around our inability to plan for the future. Having a routine of concrete steps such as outdoor play to break up the monotony of inside time, in combination with the soothing environment of the natural world, can provide a much-needed break from stress for both you and your child.