All too often, in this technological age every day is a struggle to stay up to date with the latest trends and txt-speak. Kids LOL instead of actually laughing and parents are more concerned with how many likes or comments the photos of their kid’s birthday party got, rather than looking their child in the face and genuinely engaging them in conversation about their day.
So, what is a family to do?
The answer: unplug from the endless barrage of media and begin making honest connections with your loved ones. To stop living virtually and begin living in the real world, the simplest thing we can do is go back to our roots. Get the family together and go outside, away from distractions, where you can use your senses to experience life together as we were meant to do.
Don’t worry if your idea of being in the great outdoors is sipping a refreshing beverage from the comfort of a lounge chair. Engaging your family outdoors doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go camping in the Rockies with 4 kids and the dog for the week….it could…. but, it could also mean making snow cones on a warm afternoon in your own backyard.
In today’s hectic world, creating opportunities to spend time together as a family comes down to our ability to prioritize. Building good prioritization skills helps us to make the most of our time and learn to effectively and efficiently balance our time. However, when we are able to demonstrate this skill, our children also learn how to balance their time from observing us. Building this skill will help them throughout their lives and will also help you to decrease the amount of time you spend directing them.
As we work to achieve a balanced lifestyle, we should turn our focus to creating memorable and engaging times together as a family. One of the most important things we can do to facilitate quality time together is for the whole family unplug. This creates the opportunity to make observations and allows for more open conversation. Research shows that children in families who communicate more often experience fewer behavioral problems and exhibit higher academic performance. Additionally, we should be open to trying new things. This not only helps us to grow as individuals but also helps our children to grow their confidence in new situations.
Engaging in activities that the whole family enjoys is ideal, but trying an activity that holds special interest for your spouse or child goes a long way in showing how much you love and care about them. Spending quality time together results in a family experience that is overall more satisfying and fulfilling for all of its members.
So, we all know that spending quality time together as a family is important, but why should that time be spent outside? Recently a series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed that spending just 20 minutes a day outdoors can increase your vitality and energy, boost your mood, increase feelings of happiness, and (as if that isn’t enough) improve your resilience to illness.
You may be wondering, how that is possible from just 20 minutes spent outside? Well, the majority of the benefits stem from the suns UV rays—which you still get even on a cloudy day. Now it is important to acknowledge that too much time in the sun can result in damaging effects, like sunburn, so always use appropriate sun protection when engaging in any outdoor activity. That said, exposure to the sun’s rays allow our bodies to produce vitamin D (in its active form), and this is now thought to be responsible for regulating over 1000 genes that control many bodily systems including calcium metabolism, and neuromuscular and immune systems. Exposure to sunlight also helps to regulate melatonin production which helps us to sleep, it increases endorphins which help to make us feel happy, and decreases the risk of autoimmune disorders. All these health benefits from simply being outdoors in the sunshine for as little as 20 minutes a day, incredible!
In addition to many physical health benefits, spending time outdoors is also important for the well-being of our children and contributes to their cognitive development. Outdoor play and exploration encourages social interaction with other children, creativity, exploring and understanding relationships in nature. It also creates opportunities for developing decision-making skills, communication skills and a sense of autonomy, in addition to beginning to develop healthy practices, like exercising, for the rest of their life. Children learn the most from observing and modeling the behavior of their parents, so engaging in outdoor activities with your children creates opportunities for learning and growing as a family.
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought, or maybe just confirmation of things you already knew. Either way, I hope that you will join me in taking back our family time by unplugging and engaging in positive and memorable outdoor family experiences that inspire wonder and awe.
Mead, M. N. (May 2008). Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Environmental Health Perspectives,116(5), a197. Retrieved December 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/
Pica, R. (n.d.). Take it Outside! Retrieved December 30, 2016, from http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/
Pish, S. (2013, June 15). Quality Time as Family. MSU Extension Retrieved December 30, 2016, from http://msue.anr.msu.edu/
Richard, R. M., Et al. (june 2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology,30(2), 159-168. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.10.009