The Road to Fulfillment is Lined with Pine Needles… The Essentialness of Outdoor Play

I grew up on eleven acres of wooded land in WI. My days often consisted of uninterrupted exploration. Trees to climb, holes to dig, stories to tell to no one in particular, ladybugs to watch, tadpoles to catch in a jar, endless hours on the tree swing with head flung back and legs stretched long, rocks to paint, forts to build (and, yes, bug bites and bumps and scrapes to tend to, or not)… all serenaded by an endless chorus of songbirds and insects and other native neighbors. 

I was a student in the best classroom life has to offer. I played hard and slept well. 

Research now irrefutably shows that this kind of self-led, unfettered (dare I say “unsafe”?) play in nature is one of the single most significant contributors to a healthy, confident and teachable child – and a fulfilled, resilient adult. (Type “benefits of outdoor play” in your search bar and you’ll find a glorious plenty of articles to give you full permission to start putting nature into your family’s weekly/daily calendar.)

Yes, to a degree, we’ve paved paradise. And we’ve structured academics and even activities to the point where kids are sitting for hours on end and spending much of their active hours under the play-by-play guidance of an adult. And we have technology to navigate.  To be fair, it’s not the individual parts, but it is the sum of them that are dulling and stressing our kids – and, let’s be honest… dulling and stressing us. 

But here’s the cool thing: nature has a magical way of reversing things expediently.  

Take five minutes today and step under a tree or near a stream – or if you can’t do that, simply close your eyes and imagine doing so.  Pay attention to all five senses, as well as to your unchecked impulses to use them to touch, see, hear, smell… explore, play, smile, unwind. The wonderfully awe-invokingly cool thing about nature is that it is so good for you, just five minutes can begin to undo the dullness and stress in your head and your body. 

Imagine what an hour or more can do for your child. At any age. 

Whether it be a backyard garden or oasis you grow with native plants to invite nature back into your immediate world and/or a trip to the nearest land trust, natural park, beach or farm… Go, bring the ones you love. Walk, run, spin, roll, laugh, breathe deeply, throw acorns, observe insects, splash in streams and puddles, watch the clouds, consider how you are a part of all of this… this beautiful, welcoming, forgiving, brave, inspiring world. Observe how your own world begins to right itself, even ever-so-slightly. It is a gift.

May we never take it for granted. 

Today, seven acres of land surround me as I write this, at The Story Barn in CT, the new home to Frieda B., LLC, and a blessed space for exploring one’s own free-to-be story, through play and time in authentic community. My senses can’t help but awaken to possibility and adventure here… it’s what nature in any form can do for any, all of us.  It is so important to who we are. 

Yes. Nature calls. For the good of ourselves and our children, may we eagerly, regularly, gratefully and with wild abandon accept the invitation. 

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