How time in nature with my preschooler is good for me, too

From the stillness of the beach to finding huckleberries in the forest, see how one mom is finding solace in the great outdoors
By Kelly McQuillan  Published on 08/10/2018 at 11:50 AM EDT
Simon Rae/Unsplash

When you realize that your only “outdoor” time consists of traveling to and from your car, you have a problem. This was me, three years ago.

I wasn’t always an indoor homebody; I experienced a rural 1980s childhood, where I routinely spent long periods of each day rolling in the grass, digging in the dirt, and watching the clouds drift by. Unfortunately, as I grew into adulthood and became increasingly wrapped up in life, I spent less and less time outdoors.

Thankfully, all this changed when I became a mom and started making time in nature a daily must. Several years on, what was motivated by my desire to be a good parent has ended up providing huge benefits (both expected and surprising) for me, as well as my son.

The old adage of fresh air and exercise being the cure to many ills definitely rings true in my experience. An outdoor adventure in the woods or a hike along the shoreline are go-to therapies when we are feeling under-the-weather, tired, or in the case of my preschooler, overly revved-up. Along with the expected benefits of improved fitness and energy, I have also re-discovered some inspirational, intellectual, emotional, and relational perks of spending time in The Great Outdoors.

We live in an amazing world. When we truly open ourselves to the earth’s beauty, it is breathtaking. The postcard-perfect landscapes, the ones that have long-inspired poetic odes to the “sublime,” tend to take center stage when we think of natural wonders. We recently visited some local river rapids, and the elemental power of the glacial water whooshing past was both awe-inspiring and invigorating.

Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t have the opportunity or choice to live in a place that has more green space than concrete. Thankfully nature, like children, is resilient. It will find endless places to survive, thrive and impress: in parks, balcony gardens or even sidewalk cracks.

Slowing my steps to the pace of a 3-year-old has helped me to notice many such examples of “micro-beauty.” The soft hairs on a bumblebee, the varied and complex language of crows, or the delicate feathers of morning frost on car windows (before I grumble about having to scrape them)—my son notices everything, and his sharp senses have helped me re-hone mine.

Thankfully nature, like children, is resilient.

My son’s unbridled joy in nature is matched by his curiosity. We are entering The Time of Questions, particularly the tricky questions of “Why” and “How” that tend to flummox parents. His inquisitiveness motivates me to think more deeply about things I’ve taken for granted. For example, why does thunder happen? Why does each beach look different? And how do birds stay up in the air?

I have also been reminded of the value of stillness in this crazy and often overwhelming world (and not the kind of stillness one experiences on the couch while binge-watching Netflix). My favorite place to experience this is at the beach. When my son sits in the sand and sifts it through his fingers like an hourglass, over and over, I join him and feel my worries dissipate with each handful. When he is building (and knocking down) driftwood towers and I don’t feel like playing anymore, I sit and feel the wind in my hair, watch dragonflies drone overhead, and listen to eagles chattering in the fir trees along the shore. For someone who struggles with anxiety, the meditative calm that settles over me when we are simply being in nature is immensely helpful.

We return home from our adventures refreshed and reconnected with the planet, ourselves, and each other. Every night before bed I ask my son what he enjoyed about the day, and (apart from a rare rave about eating ice cream or getting a new toy) his highlights most often include things like spotting deer grazing in the field, splashing our feet in the ocean or finding huckleberries in the forest. These are my favorite memories as well, and they are all going into the bank, enriching the soil that will help sustain a lifetime—both his, and mine.

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