Summer beckons you outdoors. It waves from open windows and whispers, “Come play.” It’s easy to throw swimsuits and t-shirts on the kids and launch them into the big wide open. Autumn, though, takes a bit more effort: one more layer of clothing, a little less daylight, a little more scheduling around homework. But nature is a necessary part of our existence. It’s the reset button we all need for our minds and bodies, and autumn wants to play too.
According to a study in The Atlantic, patients recovered faster from surgery when given windows with a view. They reported less symptoms of depression and also required fewer pain medications. A picture of nature alone was enough to be a balm and boon to spirits. Another study geared specifically towards children found that kids who grew up in more rural areas with greater access to the outdoors reported lower levels of anxiety in stressful situations. In the same way, children with ADD who spend more time outside have seen improvement in the classroom. Parents stated that “green activities – like fishing and soccer – left their children in a far more relaxed, focused state,” and more able to do all the things the world asked of them.
It appears all those hours kids spend climbing trees and following bugs really do soothe their psyches. It also works on the grownups as well. It’s why dentists’ offices have fish tanks and spas play soundtracks of waterfalls and chirping birds. We are all soothed by the great outdoors in a way that nothing else can. Nature, it seems, is a universal restorative.
In light of all this research, here are five outdoor autumn activities to refresh and reset your family in the new season:
Many cities now have bike sharing stations like this one in Portland. You can rent bikes for an hour or a day and tool around town or into the nearest parks. You just check them out at one bike stand and return them to another, like catching the bus but so much better. This lets you explore with a little more freedom and without the hassle of hauling your own gear.
Kids love to scramble off the beaten path, which makes nature trails the perfect way to ease them in to hiking. They might not be up for a fourteener just yet, but they could handle these gentle forays into nature. Use the this site to find easy hikes near you. You can map out long and short hikes by degree of difficulty and scenery and then save them to your favorites.
Let them use their iPads and iPhones for the greater good by capturing photographs of what nature looks like from a kid’s eye view. It’s easy and comes with the instant gratification of a well-captured moment. Or, if you want the real deal, rent a camera, have it shipped to you or pick it up at a nearby location, and then return it when you’re done. Your kids will see what professional equipment can do without all the expense.
The leaves are changing from green to vermilion before your very eyes. Now is the time to pile in the car and hit the road, Jack Kerouac-style. Pretend you’re on Route 66 with all the time in the world and just look. Not sure which way to go for the best view? Find the scenic routes near you and map out something memorable.
Color walks are “Eye Spy” on foot. Let the kids pick a color and then track down all the natural things they can find from their back door and beyond. You’d be surprised how far you can travel in search of all things teal. For a culminating activity, let them create a nature rainbow by collecting one item for every color on the spectrum.
The days may be shorter, but the air is crisper and the trees are showing their colors, so no matter what you choose, get outside and make the most of what the world has to offer: itself.