Tuesday Trails: Making it a Priority to Get Out!
I don’t write much about homeschooling on this blog. At least not specifically. Part of the reason is that we are life-learners, meaning both that we will be learning throughout our lives (not just until graduation day), and that all of life is learning. We are learning all the time, not just when we sit down at the table and crank out some math problems.
My main homeschooling goal is to get the kids outside as much as possible. Bonus points for getting into the woods, on a river, or playing in the wild. That’s why we have Tuesday Trails.
Why outside instead of workbooks? The Great Outdoors offers more benefits than anything else we can do.
Once a week we get together with one or two (or three) other homeschool families, call it Tuesday Trails, and go for a walk. This fall, I blocked out Tuesdays on my calendar to make sure it happens. I send a text on Monday with a trailhead and time, and then we go. Hiking with friends even gets Finn to go without complaint.
This autumn, my friend Jessica and her kids, plus Anders, Finn, and I have been exploring trails new and old. We can often get another family to walk with us and add to the chaos and fun. This is not a Leave No Trace expedition, but it is fostering a lifelong love of the outdoors and our backyard in our kids. It is encouraging free-play, intrinsic goals, and caressing them in feel-good chemicals.
In Japan, they practice something called Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing). Its basically walking in the woods and basking in its loveliness. Among other benefits, a survey of nearly 500 people revealed that the mood of the respondents (hostility, depression, liveliness, and three other positive and negative mood subscales) were significantly improved on the day of the forest visit. I dont need a study to know this is true; I feel significantly better after a walk in nature. I think my kids do, too.
Trees release chemicals called phytoncides that protect them from insects. When we walk through the forests, we are immersed in these aerosols. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation wrote, Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer. These are the same chemicals that reduce stress and provide an overall sense of well-being.
“Outdoor play is beneficial for motor development, vision, cognition, vitamin D levels and mental health,” according to studies by Pooja Tandon at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. We can all benefit from a nature boost. Just a 20-minute walk in nature increases attention spans, and in an increasingly fragmented digital age, we can all use that.
Other studies conclude that the decline of free play may have caused a decline in the sense of control children feel, a decline in intrinsic goals, and a rise in anxiety and depression. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests. When we go for a hike, it starts out with parents and kids on a trail, but at some point it usually involves kids running through the forest with sticks, while the parents hang out and chat. They get to make their own play, unguided by adults.
I could continue on with this list of nature benefits. I have lots of articles bookmarked to make my point and confirm to myself that we are on the right path, but I think you get the point.
Going outside is good for the kids and necessary for me. If there is one thing I want to pass on to my kids, this is it. Tuesdays Trails, or whatever day it is, get outside!