By Joyce Reingold
School’s out and the promise of summer stretches from one Florida coast to the other and back again. Children long-jump into boundless, homework-free days. It’s time for morning lie-ins and stay-up-too-late sleepovers. It’s wet bathing suits and ice pops pilfered from the freezer.
For parents, well, it’s a bit more complicated.
But not to worry. Boca Raton author and journalist Sandi Schwartz has you covered with her just-published book, Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer. This engaging and informative guide may become as essential as sunscreen to your family this summer and far beyond.
In her book, Schwartz — the founder and director of the Ecohappiness Project — shares wide-ranging and persuasive research that confirms what she has long believed: Nature has the power to soothe and renew. And with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling children’s mental health “an ongoing public health concern,” Schwartz’s work to connect children with nature feels timelier still.
“Humans evolved to live in nature, not indoors staring at screens all day. We all have a powerful instinct to experience nature, so creating a daily nature habit can help us feel more balanced,” she says. “I have found in my own battle with stress and anxiety that connecting with nature can soothe anxiety, calm the mind and promote feelings of joy. I call this connection eco-happiness.”
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, calls her book “a prescription for reducing the loneliness of our species.”
Schwartz had returned in mid-May from a Children & Nature Network conference, where she heard Louv speak. She quoted Louv as saying there are two types of people: the doers and people who write about them.
“And I feel like my job was to bring together all of the science, the research, the knowledge, the examples from all these amazing people that are doing the work on the ground, so that parents have this toolkit. And not just parents. The book is for therapists, guidance counselors, teachers, camp counselors.”
Schwartz introduces readers to the “nature tools” of mindfulness, awe and gratitude, outdoor play and adventure, creative arts, food and volunteering. Each gets its own chapter with lots of suggested activities and resources.
“This is the toolkit I wish I had growing up,” she writes. “My goal is to give my children, and all children, the ability to turn to some simple natural tools when they feel distraught. The last thing I want is for anyone to get stuck in the anxiety quicksand like I did.”
You can enjoy Schwartz’s book as a cover-to-cover read or dip into it on demand, thanks to its robust index.
“I always say, start with what your family or your individual child already loves. If they’re already into art and painting, I would suggest taking the arts and crafts outside. This could be making a collage of nature elements you collect on a hike. … Or it could be taking a blanket to the playground and having the kids pull out their journals and their crayons or their paints. … So, if you have a kid already kind of doodling or making cartoons or something and stuck inside, get them outside to do their creating.”
The good news is that you and your children can enjoy time in nature without spending a penny. Why not kick off your shoes and join the kids for “earthing” — a mindful walk across a patch of grass, soil or sand, when it feels cool enough?
“The goal is to walk barefoot while paying close attention to the soles of your feet as they connect with the Earth’s surface,” Schwartz writes. “This practice provides several benefits for our kids. First, it feels good to them. It is freeing to walk around without feeling constrained by their shoes all the time. Next, it improves their senses as the bottom of their feet touch different types of textures, sometimes for the first time.”
Of course, there are some necessary items for any outdoor excursion — particularly during a Florida summer — so don’t forget water and eco-friendly insect repellent.
A bit of planning can mitigate any “too hot, too humid, too buggy” pushback from the kids. The beach is lovely in the late afternoon and Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands in Boynton Beach, one of Schwartz’s favorite spots, opens at 7.
“I personally think any way a child is engaging with being outdoors in nature is great,” she says. “I think if we’re too specific or judging people on how they engage in it, that’s just not going to get us anywhere. … So, it’s finding what works for you and that’s going to also make you happy.”
Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer is available online at IndieBound, Amazon, and wherever books are sold. For more information, visit ecohappinessproject.com.
Joyce Reingold writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.