A kid's year pretty much revolves around summer vacation. Time stretches out, letting us explore the world in a way we can't when we've got homework, sports and music lessons. During the school year, rarely do we have the luxury to hang out under a tree, watching birds and butterflies flutter overhead. Nature has a positive effect on a person's well-being. There were many studies proving that sunlight in classrooms and offices promotes learning abilities, mood and overall performance. Nineteenth-century American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended that people go into the woods to reset their inner compass. And would you believe there is even a syndrome called nature deficit disorder? Before summer slips away and you're packing up to head back to school, make sure you spend a little time in nature.
Here are five quick ways to get started.
One: For 15 minutes, go outside and unplug. Bring a novel or a field guide to read outside on the grass or even perched in a tree. Don't check your phone or emails --nothing is going to happen in 15 minutes! Sometimes I set a timer so I don't keep checking the time. After the first few minutes, I forget about everything going on, instead focusing on every sound I can hear. Then before long, a flock of doves passes by or a leaf flutters, something I would have never noticed if I had been distracted or busy. Even in the most busy urban neighborhood, you'll be surprised to find all sorts of birds, perhaps a falcon or two.
Two: Once I notice something exceptionally interesting, which occurs frequently in nature, I can't help but want to record it in some way. A notebook or sketchbook can be a place to write down what you saw, or make a quick sketch so you remember all the details. One of my favorite things to do when birding is to take pictures, since I often use my pictures as models for drawings down the road. Sometimes if I really like a picture, I load it as my desktop background so I can relive the moment.
Speaking of computers, another way to enjoy nature this summer is to check in with a nestcam. All around the country, birds are raising their chicks, getting them ready to leave the nest, and cameras have been set up so you can watch live on your computer. It's pretty awesome to see a great blue heron defend her nest from an owl, you know!
Three: Of course, nothing beats seeing birds in real life. To encourage birds to come to my yard, I keep bird feeders filled with seed, especially oiled sunflower seed. The birds hang out and sometimes I bring my lunch outside and eat with them. One experiment I did was charting which birds went to which feeders. I learned that some birds ate off the ground, while others liked only the feeders. One bird, a nuthatch, actually enjoys eating from the feeders upside down!
Jackson Bouler working on native plantings at Seatuck, a nature preserve.
Four: My little brother Jackson has gotten into planting this summer. He's planted a vegetable garden for my mom, a butterfly bush to encourage butterflies to come to our yard and even native plants at the nature preserve. Like most nine-year-olds, he loves digging holes and getting dirty, but I can tell he also likes seeing the plants grow. One night we ate some of the lettuce he grew, but we are still waiting for tomatoes.
Five: If you get adventurous, think about asking your parents to take a hike with you. There are nature preserves and parks all over -- some may be closer to your town than you think. Not only do you get to enjoy nature, you'll be supporting conservation areas in your own community. Who knows -- you might even inspire your family to take an eco-vacation. Last summer I went to Costa Rica to visit the rainforest, and the year before that, I went to Maine to see the puffins.
Consider trying one of these ideas to bring a little nature into your summer. It's the perfect time of year to get outside and experience what's happening in your world. Who knows, it may just reset your inner compass!
Jackson and me in Costa Rica: