DIY Nature Therapy Kept My Kids Calm in a Pandemic
Updated: Mar 7
Schools shut down. Families stayed home. And children everywhere watched the world panic.
At the start of the pandemic, my then 5-year-old daughter transitioned to remote learning, and she struggled with attention and behavioral challenges.
Every morning, she would trudge slowly through addition problems and spelling lessons. She took constant breaks to get snacks, go to the bathroom, help her brother play with a toy, and do anything else she could think of to avoid the work.
I was stuck in the mindset that my daughter needed to do her work before having fun. Then, I read that outdoor time and exercise can help kids focus.
I started taking the kids outside for an adventure every morning. Then, we would return for remote learning in the afternoon.
Everything changed. Not only could my daughter focus, but she was motivated and happy.
Our outdoor time included playing at parks, walking through forests, splashing in waterfalls, and exploring our backyard. We would integrate crafts and journals, or sometimes we just enjoyed the silence.
My daughter is back at school full time now, but this experience turned DIY nature therapy into one of my favorite parenting strategies.
How Nature Helps Kids
Nature therapy, also called ecotherapy, focuses on the connection that humans have to the environment and the benefits that come from nurturing that connection. Although this is a relatively new field, the positive impact of nature is well-known by scientists and health professionals.
Research has shown that time outside in nature improves mental health and well being. A simple walk can reduce negative thoughts and calm your mood.
Psychologists may recommend nature therapy as a stand-alone treatment or combine it with other forms of therapy.
With the pandemic pushing people outdoors and nature therapy growing in popularity, parents have started using these techniques on their own.
COVID stress and increased screen time has been detrimental to kids’ physical and mental health.
All kids can gain cognitive and mental health benefits from nature therapy. It’s been used for treatment of anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, and other conditions.
For my kids, nature therapy activities were the perfect fix, and it helped us to create moments that we’ll treasure forever.
DIY Nature Therapy Activities for Kids
While there are different approaches to nature therapy, we had a few favorites. My daughter and son jumped at anything adventurous or messy. They loved unique hikes, digging in the dirt, and taking ordinary tasks outside. Here are the nature therapy techniques that we enjoyed the most.
Get Dirty, Get Happy
One hot June morning, our neighbor walked over with a wheelbarrow full of sprouting plants. She had planted seeds for tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, and other veggies and wanted to share them with us. We gladly took the sprouts and started digging.
It turned out to be an amazing day, and the kids had fun watering and caring for the plants throughout the summer.
Digging in the dirt lifts your spirits and makes you feel more satisfied. Inhaling microbes from the soil makes you produce more serotonin, which helps you relax and gives you a boost of happiness.
As our plants developed, we talked about plant growth stages and the elements they need like sun, water, and nutrients from the dirt. This creates a nice opportunity to talk about changes and growth in general and the elements that people need to stay healthy and happy.
Nature Journaling: Kids Edition
I’ll be honest. The nature journals started off as a sneaky way to get my kindergartener to practice writing. Ultimately, she mostly drew pictures, but the journals became one of our treasured activities.
Our journals have been everything from fancy store-bought notebooks to a few sheets of stapled-together paper. That part doesn’t matter. The important thing is to focus on drawing or writing about beautiful discoveries, amazing adventures, and memorable moments.
When we went outside to explore, we’d bring our journals and capture the animals in our backyard, wildflowers along hiking trails, hidden waterfalls, etc. Each time we went out, it seemed like there was always one or two things that really jumped out to us, and we would draw it.
Sometimes, our entries were not just nature. The most memorable picture we drew was daddy driving home from work. We were outside playing and saw his car coming up the road. At the start of the pandemic, most parents were working from home, but he still had to go out to the area hospitals. Daddy coming home was the best part of every day.
When we saw him driving up the road, we immediately started drawing it in our journals. Having that picture in the “pandemic nature journal” reminds me of the stress and craziness of that time, and how nice it was for us when he came home.
Take Everything Outside
I cannot tell you how many picnics I’ve had with my kids. Too many to count. When it’s nice outside, we throw down a blanket and have breakfast, lunch, and snacks outside.
Picnics became one of our favorite warm weather activities, and soon our picnics expanded into much more than just food. We began taking books, board games, paint, crafts, and stuffed animals out to the picnic blanket too. This extended our outside time and put a new spin on these traditionally inside activities.
Diving into the Forest
Forest bathing is the practice of exploring the woods while consciously immersing your senses in the surrounding environment.
To do this, you can try going for a walk in the forest (or the patch of trees in your backyard). Silently, everyone focuses on 1 of the 5 senses. After a minute, chat with your kids about what they noticed and how it made them feel.
During our COVID outdoor adventures, my kids and I discovered amazing local forest hikes. Each time we walked the trails, we worked through the list of our 5 senses. For each sense, we chatted about the sensations and how we felt.
Let me tell you, it wasn’t all butterflies and daisies. It was also mosquitoes, prickly bushes, and slithering snakes. But guess what? Sunshine or storms, bugs or birds, we enjoyed all of it.