Use Nature to Raise Self-Reliant Kids

In light of the recent “free-range parenting” bill passed in Utah, signed on March 15, 2017 to take effect in May, it got me thinking about children and how we can help develop their independence.

Looking for ways to build your child’s independence? Here are 3 things you can do, while also exercising their leadership skills, as you get them outside for some Vitamin N.

Prioritize Unstructured Time Outside

Kids need nature. These days, in our over-scheduled world, our kids also need to learn how to self-propel. If you can, go outside with your kids to explore in an unstructured way, at least once a week, to get fresh air, decompress, and de-stress. Walks in nature, hanging out in the backyard, heading to the park for some downtime all help to strengthen your bonds, and get some therapeutic time in nature.

If they are given the chance to explore on their own, they are strengthening their independence as well.

Let Them Pack Their Backpacks

Before you head out for a hike, talk with your kids about what you pack in your backpack, and why. Then, as you get closer to your day trip, let them do the packing themselves. Remember, you can always pack the necessary stuff for everyone.

The sooner your kids get in the habit of packing their own things, the more independent they become.

Let Them Lead

We are so used to telling our kids where to go and what to do and when. Next time, when you take your kids outdoors for some time in nature, let them lead.

When my son was younger, we would practice our map-reading skills and before long, he could lead us into and out of the park, by way of the different trails.

Letting your kids lead not only helps them build self-confidence, but it hones their leadership skills.

It can also be a lot of fun for your kids to sit in the driver’s seat for a while, and if you have more than one child, giving each one their turn in leading can be a lot of fun both for the pack leader and the followers.

Remember, it’s important for your kids’ health and development to spend time outside. Make it a priority, and they will grow up valuing time spent in nature too.

Need 5 more reasons?

Here’s a helpful visual put together by Kenny Ballentine of Nature Kids Institute:


The 10 Days of Dirt Challenge!

Remember the good ole’ days???

The ones where you would stay out all day long, only coming in for lunch, if at all…Wanting to stay out past dark so badly because you were having so much fun. The sun would set. The sky would begin to turn purple and the crickets would start to rile up for their time to play too. You would be lost in your games of keep-away, riding bikes, exploring, catching fireflies, or hours of imaginative unstructured play. You would stay out so late that it was hard for you to even see, and you’d hear your mom or dad shout your name. Just one more minute. Just one more round through the sprinkler. Just one more dash across the lawn, the playground, the parking lot…

Those days are few and far between now. Kindles. Apps. Phones. Cartoons. Cable. Organized time.

Accept the Dirty Boots Project 10 Days of Dirt Challenge

Summer is on the wind-down. Let’s tip our hats to summer with a big muddy, outdoor HOORAY!

How muddy, grubby, sun-soaked and day-worn can you get?! Take the challenge with me! Post pics with friends or your kids, or all by yourself! Share the nature love! Best pic gets a Dirty Boots Project Ten Days of Dirt Challenge TShirt!!

Dirty Boots Project logoCome ON!

Let’s Show Summer the love she deserves!!

Green Therapy: Strengthening Your Relationships Is Easier Than You Might Think

My son and I often sit in the same room where I do my work, and he reads and plays on his Kindle. Seemingly really happy, he laughs and giggles at the people on his screen for as long as I’ll let him. While I believe there’s a correlation between the rise of ADHD and increased prevalence of screens in our daily lives, I’m more concerned about how far these little gadgets draw us from each other and our active participation in life. Screens offer us convenience, entertainment, information, and also continued distraction. Maybe you’ve seen it too in your relationships with friends, your partner or your kids. But what do we do about all this space between us when we are right next to each other on the couch?

What Now?

Can we bridge this growing gap between our spaces of intimacy both with others or even ourselves? How do we bridge the gap between our bodies and our minds, or our divergent worlds made of paved roads, versus pine-laden paths?

In a study published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, George W. Burns focuses on the efficacy of Nature-Guided Therapy practices in sessions for couples and families. While we don’t hear about it much in the media, using nature as therapy is not really a new concept, and though we also don’t hear it circulate around water bubblers and playgrounds, it offers individuals simple tools that can be learned and used to connect individuals and heal relationships.

By entering into nature, we remove ourselves from the environments involving our daily problems. We step into the healing backdrop of nature as individuals, and consciously re-connect in this peaceful and restorative environment.  From there we can enjoy activities that help us set our differences aside, find common ground again, and build a deeper level of intimacy than we thought possible.

Gregory Bateson in his book Mind and Nature believes that humanity is experiencing a degradation in the “pattern(s) which connect” by existing in industrialized environments far removed from nature. This separation impacts our behaviors and our relationships.  In nature, for Bateson, there is a glue holding everything together. That glue, in daily life as we know it now, is progressively weakening.

We need to reintegrate; we need to restore that connection to nature, to others, and to ourselves by involving our most loved sensory experiences in nature, according to Burns.  It’s really that easy. If we connect to what speaks to our feelings of enjoyment, be it the smell of wood burning, seeing a butterfly or wild animal run by, or by looking at the stars, our pleasure centers in our brains are activated, and if we can find a common enjoyment with say, our kids or our spouse, we can reconnect there in that happy space of shared ground, and in so doing, strengthen our intimacy.

We may happily occupy the same physical space as our loved ones, but many of us are dodging that great big elephant in the room called emotional disconnection that occupies the space too. It is leaching the depth of our relationships with others, with ourselves and it’s leaching the life out of our planet. But there’s hope yet. When you go out into nature with others, get out of the noise, the distraction, the crazy schedules and the have-to’s, you can take a breath, regard a flower, climb a mountain together, share an invigorating splash in a river, see each other’s smiling faces in the warmth of the sun or the glow of a fire, and feel that deeper, truly alive and energizing connection that unites us all to each other and to our natural home.

What is your favorite activity you’ve enjoyed outdoors with your family or your friends? How do you feel afterwards, and how does time spent in nature impact your connection to others? Is it time to go back and do it all again? Leave a comment about your thoughts on your connections to others and nature. I would love to hear them!

Nature and Technology: Why We Need Both

We love nature. All of us. I can’t think of one person that says they hate being outside. And for good reason, It’s where we come from, and comprises all that we are made of.

We ARE nature.

But here’s the thing. We live in an electronic world. As much as I would love to deny my child screens in all forms, it’s just not practical. I am just as wired up as anyone, and I love the convenience. I love having what is a virtual library of information accessible to me at all times. We regularly come up with bizarre questions that we love finding the answers to and when we get those answers, we are all the wiser.

Technology helps our kids become smarter. More curious. Connected to a great big wide world of people and lifestyles, cultures and gobs of information. It’s all done through electronics.

The Cost

But everything comes at a cost. Shortened attention spans. Wanting everything immediately. Decreased amounts of exercise. Bad farsightedness. Less social bonding. Sleeplessness. Potential hyperactivity. We all know the con’s because we deal with them everyday.

I fought screens for a really long time. I treated them like the evIl I thought they were, but we all know that it’s silly to think we can live a life without screens and still be a part of our society. The internet has connected all of us virtually, and this is how we communicate now with friends, distant family, and business connections throughout the world.  It even connects me to my own child who lives on the opposite coast during the school year. Because of the internet, we are both cursed and blessed.

This project aims not to FIGHT screens, the internet, or our automated lives, but to work WITH those things. Electronics and the internet offer us a wealth of opportunity, information, and connectedness. We can try to live without technological advancement in effort to retain our natural connection to the world, but in aiming to do so, we only disconnect from the rhythms of our society.

So what do we do now?

We do it different.

We already do lots of things different in the name of growth. Sure, we could go to McDonald’s to eat everyday because it’s ready made for us, but we know that isn’t healthy, and we know a real milkshake made from home tastes better than a fast, pre-made mix any day because there’s nothing quite like the real thing.

This screens thing should be treated the same. Instead of hating on technology, let’s use it in a balanced way, and commit to nature as much as we do our email, Facebook time, Sunday night shows, or our Candy Crush.

The virtual connectedness is amazing. It’s why I can work from home, see and talk to my kid during the school year, see family 5 states away, and freelance write for someone in the UK. However, the natural world is where I come from, and my natural rhythm comes from the seasons as they change. The water I drink comes from it too. When we are outside we feel alive and restored. There’s something amazing about losing time in the woods, tinkering in the food garden underneath the sunshine, having a run in the cool morning air, and listening to crickets at night. Technology will never give us that. No matter how gorgeous a screen, or video. It will never be the real thing.

The mission here ought not be to banish electronics, our advancements and the opportunities all of this presents for us, but to maintain our connection to our natural world. We need to strike a balance. One that continually sways between our connectedness both natural and virtual. If we can create that working balance as we raise our children, and take care of ourselves, our children will learn to do the same. Our children in nature will grow up to be tech-savvy, grounded, strong, independent, wise, and devoted both to themselves, the planet, and everyone on it.