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Taking Your Vitamin N

by Meghan Fitzgerald

A new, large-scale study from the University of Exeter, published earlier this year in Scientific Reports, found that all you need to experience the stress-reducing, body-healing benefits of nature are two hours a week. Needless to say, the team here at Tinkergarten was pleased to see such support for nature's impact on wellness.

The parent in me also felt great that my kids have been getting regular doses of time outdoors, right from the start. But, I think it was the person in me—that person who seems to get remembered last on the list—who was impacted the most by this news. Suddenly, I could see how my choice to spend time outdoors with the kids, even when it comes in little bits, is actually a form of self-care.

The Study
In prior studies, spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce stress, blood pressure and heart rate, while encouraging physical activity and enhancing mood and mental health. A regular pattern of spending time in nature can even extend our life span. But, researchers wanted to establish how much time in nature is necessary to get the benefits. So, the University of Exeter study was done on 20,000 adults—young and old, of different ethnicities, and in varying financial situations. And, consistently, 120 minutes was the sweet spot. Further, the amount of each visit matters not, as long as your weekly total adds up to the magic 120. That means that 120 minutes per week at your favorite park, forest, beach, or whatever patch of wild you can access can translate into self-care.

Self-care eludes all of us
As life's turns have played out, I have spent time at what people would call "stay-at-home" parenting, "part-time" working, and working "full-time." For me, each model has its benefits and its distinct challenges. What also seems common about parenting, no matter which model of "work" you choose, is that it is so very hard to tend to yourself in the balance—especially when your kiddos are young. I've had my own days of stay-at-home-mom burn out, and I can completely understand why American "working" parents rank highest in stress, trying to do it all.

We all need the chance to rejuvenate and refuel. And, I don't know about you, but the term "self-care" can feel like just one more thing I need to do (translate, one more way I am failing to nail it). Some days I feel like it's truly too hard to put lotion on before I run out the door, and we all know the days when just getting a shower is a mountain too high to climb.

There is so much pressure on parents to be everything today—to be there for your kids, to be your own village and to be your best you. 120 minutes a day outdoors may not completely alleviate that incredible pressure, but it certainly can help us all balance it—help us have more reserves to bring to the challenges we embrace as parents.

So, I say, hurrah for this marvelous study! Playing together with our kids outdoors can give us a way to fill our mom or dad buckets and get the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors. That goes for those of us whose schedule includes regular, daily time outdoors with our kids and those of us who find little moments before and after work on weekdays and hit the park full steam on weekends. As long as you get your 120 in, you're getting the benefits. You'll feel your bucket fill as those minutes add up.

A few ways to spark outdoor play with kids:
And, if you are looking for easy, fun and creative ways to increase that quality time with kiddos outdoors, here are a few of our favorite ways to spend time outdoors with young explorers you love this fall:

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Take the Moon for a Walk
Needed: PJ's and a lantern/flashlight
The Gist: After dinner, put on PJs and grab a lantern or flashlight and take the moon for a walk. Slow down and take time to use all of your senses to experience the beauty and peace of nighttime outdoors.
For the full activities: Make a Lantern and Take the Moon for a Walk

Befriend a Tree
Needed: All you need is time outdoors and at least one tree to love.
The Gist: Choose a tree to befriend. Approach it—see it, smell it, touch it, name it—and even watch it over time to see how it changes in the seasons to come.
For the full activity: Befriend a Tree

Fall Feast 
Needed: Kitchen items (muffin tins, baking dishes), water, a patch of earth and plenty of nature treasures (acorns, wood chips, grass, twigs, etc.) Forest putty optional.
The Gist: Use water, earth and nature treasures along with cooking/baking tools from the kitchen to whip up a Fall Feast.
For the full activity: Fall Feast

Magic Carpets
Needed: String and colorful leaves.
The Gist: Set up a circle or rectangle of string, then fill it with colorful leaves, just like a carpet. Sit on your "magic carpet" and imagine where it can take you.
For the full activity: Magic Carpet

A Twist on the Squiggle
Needed: 2-yard pieces of ribbon, streamer or fabric.
The Gist: Inspired by a delightful story, you can run, jump, and move with your squiggles (i.e. long piece of ribbon). Who knows what they'll become!
For the full activity: A Twist on the Squiggle

Find more easy, fun DIY activities designed to help the whole family get your dose of Vitamin N at tinkergarten.com/activities.