Still, people sometimes need a push out the door, a reason to step into the great wide open. That’s understandable. We’re sympathetic. It is, after all, nice to relax with some good air conditioning and a cold beer. That said, there’s plenty of reasons to go play outside. Yes, 100 seems like a lot, but it’s just the tip of the glacier.
Why should you go play outside?
Because you’ll be happier. Studies have shown that simply being in close proximity to water can significantly lift people’s moods. Time for a beach vacation.
Because you can’t understand America without seeing the prairie. When you step into Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, outside of Strong City, Kansas, you step into an All-American landscape of tall grasses, fast fires, frigid winters, and a thriving system of bugs, bison, and birds. The fields may feel familiar — likely thanks to old painting and pictures — but just four percent of the 170 million acres of prairie that once dominated the American midwest remain.
Because natural rock slides beat water park slides any day. There are countless places in America where flowing water has, over a few millenia, carved a smooth slab of rock into the perfect launching pad for a water slide. Add a little bit of slippery substrate — moss or algae — and you get the conditions for days of fun. Next time you’re in Pisgah National Park, check out Sliding Rock and see for yourself.
“An unstructured walk in the woods is about the best break a frazzled mind can get. But when it comes to our kids, we have a problem. They are simply not getting outside. The obvious scapegoat is technology, but demonizing devices and social media would be a mistake. I learned this lesson firsthand. When my niece insisted on bringing her iPad on a family hike, I was skeptical. But half an hour later, she was identifying plants using online guides and snapping pictures to send to her friends. The lesson? Kids are natural explorers, but they are going to explore differently than we did. So don’t fight it. Instead, use their technology to connect them to the natural world. Let them bring that iPhone.” -M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International
Because puddles are fun.
Because backyard camping counts. Remember that first “camping trip” you took in your backyard, where you laid on the ground and then were properly horrified by the sounds of the crickets, owls, and the feel of the grass and ground just below your tent? Thought so. You always will.
“By journeying into nature, parents teach their children that they are part of something bigger than themselves, that they are caretakers of the earth, and that their job is to respect and honor it.” -Bob McGee, Founder, The Country School
Because the turtles won’t chase themselves. When it comes to wildlife viewing, the adventure is often found in the hunt. This too goes for baby sea turtles, who hatch beneath the sand in far-flung places, like Dry Tortugas National Park, the most active sea turtle site in the Florida Keys. Getting there isn’t easy. The park, some 70 miles west of Key West, is only accessible by plane, ferry, or boat. When you finally figure out how to get to the park, you can then bask in the loggerheads, green turtles, leatherbacks, Kemp’s ridley, and hawksbill turtles swimming in the clear water and, if you time it right, emerging from the sand.
Because birding is a blast (even if you don’t know finch from falcon). “We parents spend the first eight or so years taking kids to outside to parks to wear them out,” says David Yarnold, CEO of Audubon, “and then in some cases it falls off because parents may not feel motivated themselves or the kids lose interest and likely turn to one of their screens for entertainment.” His advice? That that screen outside — and load up the new Audubon app for beginning birders. You can use it’s Pokemon-Go like functions to identify birds in your backyard, and then learn to draw birds you want in with a little gardening, according to their Plants for Birds guide. “You don’t have to be a master naturalist to help your kids appreciate the outdoors, he says, “and they get to use their phones.” Win-win.
Because grass feels good between the toes.
Because you’ll sleep better. Without enough exposure to the sun, melatonin levels can fall or rise, and the body’s wake-sleep rhythms are thrown. In other words: Get outside more and you will sleep better when the sun goes down.
Because the bloom is beautiful. In years when there is just enough rain, the two deserts in Joshua Tree National Park offer up a fireworks display of flowers, bursting out the barren sand and dusty soil, and changing the color of the landscape for as far as the eye can see. It is a reminder that life finds a way in every corner of this planet.
“The wild brings awe but also give a sense of our place in the system. I always try to impress upon my girls is that we never kill an ant or bee or fly and even my 3 1/2 year-old understands it is because this is part of her. The carbon and dust are part of the universe and this grasshopper, it too is part of all of this.“ – Sebastian Copeland, Arctic Explorer
Because the Grand Canyon will take your breath away every time. The Grand Canyon is one of the most photographed, painted, and visually dissected places on Earth (there’s a Google Street View of it, for God’s sake). Given all that, no screen will give you the gut punch that you get from seeing that 6,804-foot drop to a canyon that slices through some 277 miles of granite — a seemingly endless, undulating scene that no camera can quite capture entirely, try as we may.
Because your dog wants to.
Because America is getting tubby. Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities. One driving factor? Most of us spend nearly 90 percent of our time indoors. “We have a generation of children who are perhaps going to live less long than parents due to obesity,” says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, a Pediatrician at Boston Hospital and Co-Director at the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment. “So a blanket encouragement to get outside has got to be good advice.”
When we spend time on places with a healthy carnivore population, in order to be safe and responsible, we need to give a little bit of thought to our activities. In these places, we can see how we fit into the natural world in a way that we seldom experience otherwise. I think this has the potential to broaden our personal experiences and teach us about humility, compassion, and what it means to be human. –Veronica Yovovich, Wildlife Conflict Specialist
Because the petting zoo has nothing on camping with wild ponies. On the beaches of Assateague and Chinconteague Island, off the Virginia coast, wild ponies roam free, frollicking in the sand and waves, and paying no attention to the campers who come to see a horse off the farm — free and riderless.
Because… silence. Green Bank, West Virginia, home to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, is where cellphones go to die. This town marks the start of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area that covers the eastern half of West Virginia where you cannot get a cell signal (just think about that for a minute). Fittingly, a telephone booth sits by the road leading to the observatory, just in case.
Because hammocks fit perfectly between two trees.
Because you need the D. Exposure to sunlight rises increases vitamin D levels. Why does this matter? Osteoporosis, cancer, depression, and heart disease all have links to low levels of D. It’s a good reason to get outside (and to talk to your doctor about supplementation for good measure).
Because trees won’t climb themselves. “When kids go up into trees, they change. They become more focused, they become more confident in their bodies, and they gain an awareness of everything else that’s going on around them. Suddenly, they see birds, suddenly they feel the wind. Suddenly, they feel the movement of the tree under them, and their life isn’t so much about whether they’re in control or not. It puts the brain in a meditative state, a more receptive state. It lowers stress levels, metabolism slows down, and heart rate becomes steady.” –James Reed, Founder, Tree Monkey Project
“The calmness of the woods and the sense of wonder provoke thoughts and without realizing it, children begin to inquire and contemplate what’s going on around them. ” -Ron Fournier, Director, University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center
Because playgrounds count (kinda). Your kids are probably obsessed with playgrounds. And why wouldn’t they be? The colorful twisting monuments of steel, wood, and rubber is built for one thing only: play. The playground is also the entrypoint to the outside for most city-dwelling kids: Some 13,554 public playgrounds dot cities in the United States, according to the Trust for Public Land — and that doesn’t include school playgrounds and private playgrounds. For suburban and rural Americans, wooded areas might be more common, but the playground is still the draw for kids.
“Like a lot of parents, showing the value of nature to my kids is really important to me. We’re leaving this world to the next generation and we have to make sure we’re doing all we can to preserve and protect the planet. Whether you’re going to the local park on the weekend, sitting by the banks of a stream, river, lake, or pond, playing with bugs in the backyard, or taking your kids hiking, camping, and fishing, showing them the wonders of nature helps connect them to nature.” – Brian McPeek, President, The Nature Conservancy.
Because dunes are nature’s answer to roller coasters. A short hike through Jockey Ridge State Park, in Nags Head, North Carolina, takes you to the top of the tallest natural sand dune in the Eastern United States, a barren sandy landscape that transports you, momentarily, to Namibia. Now the for the fun part: Get on your butt and slide down that dune.
Because mud is good for the skin even if it’s bad for the furniture.
Because it helps with asthma. “The great outdoors, especially one rich in diverse flora and fauna, is also rich in diverse antigens, including bacteria and fungi,” says Dr. Jack Gilbert, Faculty Director, The Microbiome Center, The University of Chicago. “Many of these organisms are not explicitly harmful (unless you are very, very sick), and indeed can actually stimulate your immune system, helping to train it and keep it active and responding appropriately. If you lack such exposure, especially as a child, you can end up with an immune system which actually becomes over-sensitized to allergens, and it can even lead to asthma and other diseases.”
Because there are grizzlies out there. Who needs to go on an African safari when we have megafauna like the Brown Bear in our backyard? They stand eight-feet-tall on their hind legs, weigh upwards of 1400-pounds, and can move all that mass at 35 mph with ease. While grizzlies can be found all over the northern edges of America, we suggest you head to Denali National Park where they are most densely populated. Do it from the safety of a tour bus — they are, after all, wild and unpredictable beasts.
“Kids who climb a mountain come away knowing they put their mind to something, and they accomplished it. Believing in yourself is one thing, but understanding with certainty that you actually can and have succeeded like that is unparalleled.” -Sienna Fry, Colorado Outward Bound School
Because migrations are best when binge watched. Every year flocks of Snow Geese turn Oregon’s Klamath Basin blizzard white in a migration that is unparalleled in the United States. A rest stop on their way to their Siberian breeding grounds, tens of thousands of birds blot out the sun as they flock in and turn Klamath Lake into a pulsating avalanche of feathers and a cacophony of nasal honks (distant flocks are said to be reminiscent of baying hounds).
Because the right way to get beachy hair is by going to the beach.
Because natural hot springs are a comfy way to learn about geology. Yes, kids, if you dig deep enough you really will run into lava. Chena Hot Springs, a steamy pool just outside of the usually frigid Fairbanks, Alaska is the perfect example of the Earth’s mantle in action. The resort takes the science lesson a few steps further by using geothermal energy to keep a year-round garden (even in the middle of an Alaskan winter) and by running a year-round ice hotel (even in the middle of summer). Lessons in alternative energy never were so fun.
Because you’ll get allergies if you don’t. “Millions of Americans suffer from allergies and asthma, and a large handful of them don’t even know it,” says Dr. Purvi Parikh, Allergist & Immunologist, Allergy & Asthma Network. “Getting outside, as long as you’re protected against what you might be sensitive to outdoors, tells you what you need to know about how you react to air quality, and can even reveal indoor sensitivities you didn’t even know about.”
“Being outdoors teaches you self-reliance, cooperation within a group, and brings out a sense of humility and acceptance of other humans.”Conrad Anker, mountaineer whose first-ascent of Shark’s Fin was recently made into the documentary, ‘Meru’
Because screens don’t grow on bushes. “Summer camp is an anecdote to modern civilization,” says Richard Moss, Director of Camp Lennox in Otis, MA. “The kids nowadays, especially teenagers, are anywhere from mildly anxious to exhausted from the whole social media world that puts pressure on them. They learn to get back to having social skills that have almost been retarded in development these days. It’s like kids getting back to being kids. In a sense these kids come and they’ve been curtailed in their range of behavior and it’s almost like they throw off the shackles and they find the purpose of play again.”
Because clouds sometimes look like unicorns.
Because dinosaurs don’t just hang out in museums. In Dinosaur, Colorado (actual name) on the border of Utah, kids can put on their Jack Horner hats (think: floppy brims) and see dinosaur bones as a paleontologist might — sticking out of the rock and staring down at them.
“Being outside encourages learning in a way that the classroom cannot. I like to say it tricks kids into learning. They play games and explore while asking questions and having a good time..” -Emily Bauder, Director of Outdoor Education, Pali Institute
Because Yosemite. In 1903, naturalist John Muir took president Teddy Roosevelt on a tour of Yosemite and showed him a breathtaking, inspiring, and fragile landscape. By convincing the popular president of the need for nature to be protected, not exploited, by man, he convinced the American people— and changed national policy. The trip lead to creation of the United States Forest Service which provided the model for the National Park Service, formed some thirteen years later. Yosemite is a place that, thanks to that federal protection, has kept all of the fragile beauty that still has the power to shape lives, minds, and hearts.
“You can’t canoe a river, hike a trail or swim in the ocean without wondering how the fuck anyone could knowingly pollute them when they teem with life and are our source for food, water and recreation. Kids sense the urgency of our stewardship when they develop a connection to the natural world and getting them outside early is at once the easiest and most profound way to ensure they grow up and make better decisions for the planet than the generations before them.” – Dave Ford CEO, SoulBuffalo
Because a swimming hole beats the community pool any day of the week. For those of us that have been lucky enough to taken a dip in the pristine waters of a swimming hole — like Havasu Falls in Arizona or the rainwater-fed Blue Hole in New Mexico — this much is clear: hanging out at the swimming pool is a distant second best.
Because waterfalls don’t run out of battery life.
Because nature is good for the whole family. Todd Christopher, author of The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids, and the director of editorial strategy at National Parks Conservation Association has two kids who are at home in the outdoors. They didn’t get there overnight. He has six rules that he brings with his family to the outdoors that helps foster a love of the land for all: 1) Don’t Be a Purist; 2) Don’t Dictate, Facilitate; 3) Make it Fun; 4) Don’t Overplan; 5) Don’t set expectations and 6) Let Them Bring Digital Devices. For parents questioning that last one, Christopher explains: “There came a day where we were outside and we took photos to post to Instagram or snapchatting her friends, that was part of the experience of going on a hike. Okay. So be it. That’s not for me to say. At the end of the day, we spent like 6 or 7 hours outside having a wonderful time together, and we always have that. I think that’s really important. That time outside should be a refuge for the kids.”
Because there’s space to move. A number of studies have shown that when kids and adults are given access to green spaces, they take advantage — increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary time by virtue of proximity alone.
“Being outside opens up a child’s curiosity, wonder, sense of exploration which in turn creates experiences that they can take home to their families.” -Nathan Jacobson, PE Teacher, Bel Aire Elementary School
Because a long hike is a learning experience.
A not-so-tall-tale from Land Tawney, President and CEO, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
“This last summer, my daughter turned nine and I took her hiking into the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, a storied backcountry area. The first mile is pretty flat along this creek, the next mile gets a little bit steeper, and the final mile is steep as hell. That day it’s 95 degrees out, the trail is super dusty, and about half way up that mountain she stops talking. I knew she was probably getting a little too hot, probably a little too tired; she probably had too much weight in her pack.
By the time we stop for lunch we’re at wit’s end — she’s crying and in a bad place. So I stick her head into this water to cool her down a little bit and then I tell her a story about Theodore Roosevelt. I tell her about how he grew up with asthma and that was debilitating asthma especially back in his day. And he either could let that create a path where he couldn’t do anything or he was gonna fight it. And he fought it, living a strenuous life and getting past that affliction.
I tell that story, I walk away, and I come back about five minutes later. She’s got some food and water in her at this point and I ask, ‘Well, what are you gonna do?’ And she says, “I’m ready to go.’ She crushes that mountain and we end up catching some cutthroats up top.
The grit she showed at that moment, she doesn’t get that in life. There’s not many situations where all the chips are against you and you get to make a decisions on what you’re going to do about that. From a young age she’s learned, you put your shoulders back and you face adversity. No matter what goes on, the woods don’t care. I think that’s going to be something that hopefully carries through life.”
“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.” –Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1858-1919)
Because most natural wonders will outlast human civilization. Niagara falls has drawn international attention since the 17th century when a French missionary brought back word of this unique place. Since then, the falls have drawn explorers, artists, and couples looking to get hitched to come from around the world and see this wonder for themselves. To this day, more than eight million people still visit the falls annually — standing there contemplating the future of humanity, the lasting power of nature, or what it would be like to go over the top in a barrel.
Because sitting in a chair all day is a bore.
Because the baseball diamond counts. Getting out to a ball game — hot dogs, soda, and seven innings in a seat — doesn’t quite constitute a healthy outdoors experience. But to be on the field, with glove in hand, cleats in the grass, and a breeze blowing through the air is to be in a great manmade green space, one that is built for great sport, and daydreaming.
“Our job as parents is to provide for the needs and desires of our children. Letting them play and teaching them is what they need and the outdoors is the most natural (and usually the cheapest) way to provide for those needs.” -J.W. Weatherford is the Park Manager of the coastal Hunting Island State Park
Because you can see the universe. If you’re in Big Bend, Texas, don’t go to bed when the sun is down. Get outside, wrap yourself up in a sleeping bag and take in the Milky Way, distant stars, less distant planets. This is, after all, the darkest park in North America.
“Some of my earliest and fondest memories are about exploring my neighborhood as a child. I played in the woods, searched for turtles and even rescued a lost duckling. Those experiences didn’t seem formative at the time. It was just me playing outside, as so many kids did. But looking back, it’s exactly those experiences that helped me form a lifelong love for the outdoors, and inspired me to work to protect some of our greatest outdoors—our national parks. Whether it’s exploring the grandeur of Yellowstone or the wonders of their own backyard, helping a child form a connection to the natural world is something they will carry with them for a lifetime. They will understand what it means to feel a connection to something greater than themselves and, hopefully, grow to value and protect it.” –Theresa Pierno, President & CEO, National Parks Conservation Association
Because not everything needs to be fast. So many aspects of what we do today is driven by our on-demand world. Want to hear a song or watch a show? You can stream it right now. “I understand that’s just part of how technology changes,” says Todd Christopher, “but I think that the big thing that’s getting lost is that very humble connection we have to environments we don’t control.” In other words, the natural world has a lot to teach us when it comes about patiences and persistence.
Because trees are an anti-psychotic. A 2014 study of 1,000 British residents offers evidence that moving to greener spaces is good for overall mental health. For the residents in the study who moved to greener areas, overall mental health improved for three years. For those that moved to less green areas, the anticipation of the move alone lead to significant declines in mental health (though this steadied once they moved).
“There is such a thing as too much screen time, but nobody ever says that too much time outside is bad for kids.” Kevin Park, Co-Founder, Wild Body Wellness
Because the food is free. “Foraging is an experience of the abundance of nature, which counteracts the stress of scarcity, of making ends meet,” says Alan Muskat, Executive Director, No Taste Like Home. “It’s a way to get exercise, get outdoors, and enjoy the healthiest food that money can’t buy, all at the same time.” Start with something simple to spot — like dandelion greens and berries. As your little naturalist learns to tell the difference between plants they can work their way up to mushrooms, seaweeds, and root vegetables. “Foragers can relax because they are provided for,” says Muskat, “and also provided with the sense that one belongs here, not just to one’s family and species, but on earth.”
Because “leaf peeping” is a bad name for a great activity. The simple breakdown of a pigment causes the forest of New England to catch fire every year — the mountainside bursting into yellow, gold, orange, and red as the weaker sun leads to a chlorophyll breakdown. Many a poet has pondered on a porch about the phenomena. None have quite done it justice.
Because your knees hurt. There’s a reason you let your kids run barefoot on the grass but make them put on shoes for the sidewalk: Our paved walkways are hell on the body. Running or walking on grass has 35 percent less impact than the sidewalk — something that could save your knees, ankles, and feet from common injuries like plantar fasciitis.
Because spring water is best enjoyed at its source.
Because zipping through trees is a very good way to get a bird’s eye view. West Virginia’s New River, one of the oldest on the continent, is known for its world-class whitewater, awe-inspiring gorges, and towering bridges. It also is the most biodiverse spot in Appalachia, especially apparent in the variety of trees, plants, and birds. You can take it all in all of this from on high at Adventures on the Gorge, in Lansing, WV, where you learn about trees and go birding while ziplining through the forest.
Because it’s where you learn about how the world works. “Flying a kite on a windy day is a great way to experience the power of the wind – and you can’t do that inside,” say Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro. “Nature helps kids become good observers, find patterns and teach them about cause and effect.”
I took my son outside into nature because that’s the way I was brought up. When he was a baby, it was a lot about sensation, simply the feel of plants and water and the sun and wind. Once he was speaking, we’d talk about what we saw, like how the squished squirrel on the road was a good reason for boys to hold Daddy’s hand. Later it was about adventure. He jumped on rocks, clambered down to the river, raced branches in the stream, and horsed around with his friends, while I watched from a discrete distance. Now that he’s nearly off to college, when we walk in the woods, we are quiet and contemplative. I don’t know what he’s thinking, but trust in the environment. Nature is the context for all that we do. I hope that someday he will take his son outside into nature because that’s the way he was brought up. –Dr. Eric Sanderson, WCS Senior Conservation Ecologist and author of the book Manahatta: A Natural History of New York City.
Because the there’s a lot to learn from a salmon school. From July to September, Ketchikan Creek in Alaska, is overrun with spawning fish, a mass of wriggling bodies fighting their make its way up creek. The best place to see the fish run is at Ketchikan Creek Falls, where they leap up a vertical ladder to make their way upstream. Head into town after, a twenty minute walk, and order some seafood at Annabelles.
“While kids can learn about the environment at school, they won’t turn their knowledge into action if their parents don’t lead by passionate example. These magical memories you share with your kids last forever, and inspire them to do the same with their children.” -Dave Simmons, CEO of Mighway, the RV and Motorhome rental company
Because the yard is right there. It’s guaranteed there is a patch of land in your back (or front) yard that your kid knows intimately. It might be a fallen tree that has been left to rot, or a muddy corner you are sure to avoid with the lawn mower, or a large hollow in a tree that they share with the squirrels, chipmunks, ants, and other arboreal residents. This is their entrypoint into the natural world, a small piece of land that has countless stories to tell, teasing the myriad natural mysteries that our wide world holds. Let them dig. Let them climb. Let them bury themselves in leaves. They’re learning.
Because you’ll be calmer afterward. Is it the phytoncides, compounds emitted by plants and trees, or is it just the fact that you’re away from daily stresses? The science is not yet completely in on this question, but this is for sure: Getting to the woods has been proven to reduce blood pressure and decrease stress hormone levels.
Because the grass really is greener on the other side.
“I encourage my kids to get outside so that they may connect to nature and themselves. I want them to see, feel and connect to nature in their own way. Show them a positive relationship to nature and let them take it from there. My main driver is that my children treat nature with respect and reverence while being happy and free. –Timothy Allen Olson, ultra runner, two-time winner and record holder of the Western State 100 Mile race, and the subject of the documentary “Snowman Trek”
Because bats aren’t bugs. At 7:30PM every evening, a flurry of bats begin to emerge from the dark, wide mouth of the main cave at Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. The individuals start to blur and become a deafening swarm of blind, black, bug-seeking missiles head into the night to gather their dinner.
Because, beach vacations. Digging in the sand, plunging into the ocean, taking a nap in the salty air while listening to the lapping waves — is there a pure connection to be had with nature? If so, we’re coming up short.
Because you want to hang out with bacteria. Soil bacteria and other microorganisms that we passively inhale (or a toddler actively ingests) may have more of an impact on our moods than we think. A recent study from UCLA showed that exposure to a certain kind of bacteria was directly correlated to changes in emotional, sensory, and attentional responses in the brain (in other words, it lifted their mood). This is still early science, so don’t go forcing dirt down your kids throat. But maybe don’t worry so much about them crawling on the forest floor? It’s good for them, in more ways than we may realize.
“Kids are natural born explorers — it’s how they learn how the world works. From my son’s first backpacking trip across the obsidian fields near Bend, Oregon to the first time we showed my daughter the Pacific Ocean, I’ve seen the power of showing kids they have a place in nature. Taking kids outdoors, and keeping them engaged outdoors increases their independence and self-confidence and teaches them about the interconnectedness of life. At Audubon, a love for birds means we love everything else in the ecosystem too — birds are at the top of the food chain and need clean water, fish to eat, bugs from plants and trees to build nests.” – David Yarnold, President and CEO, National Audubon Society
Because the sun has a primetime show. You don’t have to get out of the concrete jungle to notice and appreciate nature. The sun sets every single day and city-dwellers don’t have to go far to take it all in and share it — whether by a West-facing window, in a park, on a roof, or, twice a year in New York City when the sunset lines up just right, simply look down the grid of the street. “Manhattanhenge,” as this phenomena is called, is a reminder to the folks in the big city that the natural world too shines on their city.
Because sharks are beautiful and bite less often than you’d think.
Because driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is a worthy right of passage. “America’s Favorite Drive” is a 469-mile stretch from the southern tip of Shenandoah National Park south to Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. But it’s not the asphalt that draws some 10 million people each year: Lush forests, stunning vistas, 369 miles of hiking trails, dozens of lakes and waterfalls make up some of the most beautiful land in America. It’s the kind of terrain usually not accessible by car.
Courtesy of Camilla Cerea/Audubon
Because it’ll help you focus. Most of us are familiar with the anecdotal effect the outdoors have on concentration — melting away anxieties and giving what we may call clarity of mind. But there may be a clinical side to it all: A study of survey results from parents found that “green” outdoor activities reduced symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings. More research is needed before we get rid of all our prescriptions, but it’s a promising step in the direction for a safe, free, and downright enjoyable fix for ADHD.
“It’s important for us to afford children to play, to be dirty and tired so they can learn from their mistakes, take joy in peer interaction and imaginative play….. so that as adults they can also find time to play and enjoy life.” – Jeremy Loerch, Founder, Alchemy Industrial Arts
Because it won’t all be there forever. The 37 glaciers left in Glacier National Park — rock-crushing mountains of packed ice and snow — have lost an average of 39% of their mass in the past 50 years. They may be gone before another 50 have passed. By hiking past the markers documenting the glaciers’ retreat, families can see, quite viscerally, climate change in action.
Because you can’t kick a ball inside, at least not without getting in trouble.
“Today kids are spending less time outdoors than any generation in history. A recent study in the UK found that three quarters of kids there get less time outside than incarcerated people do in prison, and the trend is no different here in the U.S. As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure our kids don’t fall victim to the pattern of young kids spending more time with devices than they do outdoors. And it’s not just about exercise – getting outside brings benefits of its own apart from fitness. Studies have shown that the symptoms of ADD are reduced in children who participate in outdoor activities in green natural settings. As a mom, I try to make sure my kiddo gets as much time outside to play as possible, and grows up feeling connected to and nourished by the natural world.” Jackie Ostfeld, Director of OAK, the Outdoor Alliance for Kids.
Because the buffalo still roam. Tens of millions of wild buffalo used to roam free across the American West. Now, an estimated 5,000 wild bison are left, all located in Yellowstone National Park. These buffalo are not, exactly, wild — they are descendants of a farmer’s buffalo in 1902 that they used to bring back the population — but there’s a lesson in that, about the danger of over-hunting, the virtues of proper wildlife management, and how hard work and passionate people can help a majestic beast prosper.
Because the parties are sexy. Every year, thousands of horseshoe crabs, a 300-million-year-old species, come to the shores of Cape May, New Jersey to enact one of the longest-running orgies in the history of the world. Be there to see ancient history come alive — and help to keep it going, by signing up for the census and having your kids count the piggybacked crabs, for science.
Because a ladybug might land on you.
Because you need to heal. Even something as simple as a room with a view of nature can speed up healing time. A study that looked back at patients in a Pennsylvania hospital from 1972 to 1981 found that those with a window view of the woods had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses’ notes, and took fewer potent analgesicshe hospital.
Because you need a distraction from distraction. Getting away from screens is important — children glued to their laptops get less sleep, can show signs of real addiction, and have a lot more trouble listening to their parents and teachers. Besides, all that time you spend on the phone doesn’t exactly make you a better parent. Getting outside is by definition a break from screen time. Even if you bring your devices with you and upload an instagram pic or three, the views, the activities, the planet will do its part to distract you from the virtual world that keeps tugging for your attention.
Because a million butterflies is even better than one. The trees in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, in Michoacán, Mexico, pulse and shimmer like the scales of a reptile. This is a trick of the eye that occurs when millions of butterflies perch on a trees to keep warm for the winter. You can catch them on the other ends of their migration at Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, where they reproduce, but the effect isn’t quite as glamorous, since an emerging young monarch looks a bit like a dead leaf.
Because there be dragons. Everglades National Park is unlike any other natural place in America. The only subtropical preserve in the country, the vast expanses of swamp and sawgrass host massive wading birds, turtles, snakes, and, yes, alligators. The best way to see it all is by boat — with a guide that knows what to do when these fearsome beasts get too close.
Because you care about your neighbor. Bringing the outdoors to vulnerable communities would do wonders to boost public well-being. Parks, playgrounds, and outdoor spaces don’t only help kids to reap the physical and mental benefits of the outdoors, they have been proven to entice businesses, boosting the local community’s’ economy and health.
Because lightning bugs are very easy to catch.
Because… boom! Watching the tide roll in can be a meditative exercise — you know, something to do on the dock of the bay while wasting time. Or, in the case of Maine’s Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park, it can be a violent, exhilarating experience that shows the power 15 feet of water rushing into a cave has. The ground rumbles, spouts fly 40-feet in the air, and the ocean gives onlookers a glimpse of her muscle.
Because nature is the best living room. “Kids today are good with analytics and computers, but low-tech skills like social interaction and conversation and working out day to day relationship problems — that is deficient in a lot of these kids,” says Camp Director Richard Moss. Getting outside forces you to see nature, sure, but also to connect with your fellow humans, face-to-face, and to interact.
Because the planet needs some attention. “Getting kids outside is paramount to our survival,” says Sebastian Copeland, who was most recently the keynote speaker at the 2018 International Glaciological Society Symposium. “Those who travel the land will soon become warriors in its defense. We need earth warriors and to start early is the promise for a brighter future for all. We will not save what we do not love.”
Because Earth is a friend for life. A connection with nature, when started young, is something that will last for life. “There is a big difference between our emotional brains and rational brains,” says Dr. Aaron Bernstein. “Our emotional brains will always win — and those emotional attachments are overwhelmingly determined in our earliest years. If we don’t have that experience, it is enormously difficult to acquire it as adults.”
Additional reporting by Ben Marx.
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