Vitamins are essential for life. Author, Richard Louv, believes that there is a 14th Vitamin equally important for health and quality of life. He calls it Vitamin N, or as most of us know it, Nature.
I’ll be the first to admit it. I like to hibernate in the winter. You can usually find me sitting right next to a roaring fire, warm beverage in hand. I can attest to the fact that I feel less stress and more grounded in nature, yet each gust of frigid air seems to whisper…….“stay away.”
Recently, after several days of indoor play and a boost of motivation from reading about what Mr. Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder,” I decided this sedentary hibernation was not exactly what I wanted to teach my son. I informed him that we would be going on a nature walk to collect art supplies. His reply? “Best idea ever!”
In his book “The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life: Vitamin N,” Richard Louv recalls a time in which he spoke at a national conference for the American Academy of Pediatrics. He has researched the numerous health benefits to boosting nature experiences for children and adults alike, and recommended that the health professionals in attendance “prescribe” Vitamin N (nature) as a remedy for many health conditions, including obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression.
This is a pretty good recommendation if you ask me. Studies, like this one, have found that nature is a low-cost, easily accessible (for most), way to boost health. Time in nature is also dose dependent, meaning the more nature you get, the better you are likely to feel. In addition, natural settings are filled with “negative ions,” molecules we inhale that are imperceptible to us. Such ions are believed to boost serotonin, a mood stabilizer. Perhaps this plays a role in the seasonal moodiness I often experience come winter…
When looking at the health of a child, or anyone for that matter, proper nutrition and essential vitamins are unarguably important. Even when we make sure they eat right, it will also serve us to be aware of their sleep habits, stress levels, and quality time spent outdoors too.
So, this winter, I will commit (with all of you as my witness!) to encourage my family and I to soak up more Vitamin N. I encourage you to do so too.
Let’s bundle up, and enjoy some cold-weather friendly ideas for getting in nature:
(Note: ideas with an * next to them come directly from Mr. Louv’s book, which I highly recommend):
Paint inspiring words, such as peace or happiness, on stones and place them throughout your neighborhood or along a trail.
Play with Stick People
This idea comes from my son. Gather several sticks with branches resembling people. Tie strings around them for scarves and play.
Go on a “Pretend” Hike
In the backyard one day I suggested to my son that we go on a hike. He obliged. We found hiking sticks and used our imagination to walk the Appalachian Trail. I found it amusing that he requested we pretend that he was an old man and that I was an old woman.
Take the “Hike it Baby” Challenge*
Go here and commit to hiking for at least 30 minutes everyday.
Play Hooky and Spend a Day Outside*
Take the day off school and work (perhaps with permission) and share a special day with the kids out on the trail or at a nearby park. Mr. Louv recommends having a “Go Bag” ready with supplies for spur-of-the-moment nature time. In the winter this may include lots of scarves, hats, and gloves, as well as hand warmers and tissues. Don’t forget water and snacks!
Get Inspired with The Idea Box Kids
Idea Boxes contain wooden coins that feature a variety of activities and ideas designed to lead simple, open-ended, play. Two of our favorite boxes are full of creative ideas for nature play, the Backyard Box and the Natural Reward Box. Let your child select a coin and get inspired to spend time outdoors (Note: some of the Natural Reward ideas are indoor play too)! Some of my favorite ideas from the boxes are (1) Give a Tour of your Yard—we include plant identification! (The Backyard Box) and Have a Picnic Outside (The Natural Reward Box).
Make Holiday Gifts or Decorations
After a walk, use gathered pine combs, leaves, and acorns to decorate your home for the holidays, or make ornaments as gifts.
Find a Tree’s Heartbeat*
Place a contact microphone (found at music stores) in the hollow of a tree and listen. Take the kids outdoors for regular tree “checkups.”
Hide the Goods
This idea is from our friends. We brought my son over to their house and they had over 50 small dinosaurs hidden for him all throughout their backyard. This kept him busy for a while and encouraged exploring all of the yard’s nooks and crannies.
For those days perhaps a little too cold to go outside, try sipping a warm beverage and watching nature from your window instead of the television for a while. Take note of what your observe and consider doing this for several days. What patterns do you see?
Be a Mud or Snow Chef
Use old muffin and cake tins to prepare holiday mud or snow pies for the whole family!
Create a Decorative Ice Sculpture*
Fill a bundt cake pan with water and fill with natural treasures (leaves, acorns etc.). Let your sculpture freeze, unmold it, and then hang by a string from a tree.
Decorate Snow Angels*
After making a snow angel, use a plastic water bottle filled with water and food coloring to “squirt” colors and designs onto your creation.
While Mr. Louv mentions that the adequate or recommended dose of Vitamin N is not known (and may vary per individual), as parents, we can ensure that our children are getting in at least a little bit of nature everyday.