Tips To Make Nature Second Nature

Guest post by Alyson Weinberg.

girl_and_snail_iStock_200x267Outdoor time benefits kids mentally, physically, and emotionally. Study after study has testified to nature’s ability to help children focus, stay lean and healthy, and feel calmer and happier. Ideally, all children would spend at least one “Green Hour” per day; 60 minutes of unstructured time outdoors.

The reality is that between parents’ work and community obligations and kids’ school, homework, sports and other extracurricular activities, an extended block of time each day for unstructured outdoor fun might just be impossible.

But no one said your Green Hour has to be enjoyed all at once. A typical day in the life of even the busiest American family allows time for “stolen” moments outside.

Here are six ways to divide outdoor time into simple and fun 10-minute blocks that you can squeeze into a typical day. Try a couple and see how easy it is to make time in nature second nature for your family!

1. The Early Bird: Small children rise early, and older kids need to in order to get to school on time. A moment of bird-watching before the morning rush begins gives everyone a bright outlook to start the day. Keep a regional bird guide handy near the door. Later on, when you are near a computer, visit Wildlife Watch, to record what you find.

2. Homework Alfresco: Homework feels less like a chore when it’s done in the fresh air. Establish an outdoor homework station on a porch, patio, or balcony. Research reveals that, rather than distracting children from the academic tasks at hand, being outside helps academic focus and improves test scores.

3. Soccer Field Fun: When one child takes the field, take advantage of outdoor downtime with his or her siblings. It can be as simple as plucking clovers from the sidelines and tying them together to make bracelets or searching for ladybugs in the grass. Try cloud-gazing: Lie on your back and decide which animal or other object the clouds most resemble.

4. Impromptu Picnic: We’ve all fed kids a quick meal in the backseat on the way to and from sports and activities. But why not turn a fast food dash into a picnic in the grass? Simply stow a blanket in your car and next time you pick up dinner on the road, pull over in a shady spot and dine outdoors.

5. After-Dinner Nature Walk: An evening walk helps tummies digest and minds unwind before bed. Many wildlife families like this time of day as well. Play a game with your kids as you walk through the neighborhood. How many squirrels can you spot? How many rabbits? Create a sticker chart so kids can keep track of the animals they see.

6. Bedtime Star-Gazing: Let the kids step out in their pajamas to get one last look at nature in its glory. On a clear night, when the stars are bright, count the stars, name the constellations, and imagine worlds beyond your own. Borrow books about the night sky from the library or print star maps from Web sites such as


Alyson Weinberg is a Washington D.C.-based writer specializing in issues concerning children and families. An award-winning communications strategist, speech writer, and feature writer, she is the former editor ofSpirit, the magazine of the Special Olympics movement. Alyson’s articles and editorials have appeared in national print media, textbooks, and on the Web. She and her husband, Josh, enjoy the outdoors with their two daughters, Josie, 10, and Raina, 6, in Potomac, MD.