Forest Bathing: Relaxing in Nature With Kids

Forest Bathing: Relaxing in Nature With Kids

Connecting With Nature’s Calming Embrace

I’ve never been much of a nature person. Growing up in the bustling city, I’m used to and love the urban (concrete) jungle. It wasn’t until I met my outdoorsy partner that I started to understand and really “get” the immense benefits of “forest bathing” on the soul. It’s also such a great bonding experience between two people. Forest bathing, or shinrin yoku as it’s known in Japan, is the medicine of simply being in and soaking up the atmosphere of the forest. It’s such a widely held view in Japan that they’ve even commercialized this into “forest bathing” shampoos and bath products (of course!).

The many researched benefits of forest therapy are nothing short of remarkable. Studies have shown that it can boost immune system functioning, reduce blood pressure and stress, improve mood, increase focus (even in children with ADHD), accelerate recovery from illness, and enhance energy levels and sleep quality. There are such phenomenal health benefits to spending just a few hours in the forest!

Mindful Meanderings Through the Woods

Of course, you could simply take a walk through the woods, which has its pros. Or you could take it one step further and embark on a mindful walk through the woods, taking the time to appreciate the patterns in the tree bark, the varied colors of the moss and lichen, or even tuning into the sounds of the birds and other animals in the forest. Ideally, you’d leave your phone and camera at home too… but I’m not that enlightened yet (!) and love taking photos and videos of the beauty of the woods. Plus, as I’m completely lousy with directions, I definitely need Google Maps to help guide me back!

Introducing Forest Bathing to the Kids

Here around Loch Ness Shores, we’ve also got forests surrounded by picturesque hills and lochs, which adds to the variety of nature to enjoy. And as a parent, I can’t help but want to share this restorative practice with my kids.

According to primary school teacher Ruth Nazarian, “When you really pay attention to nature with kids, so many ordinary things become magical.” Forest bathing encourages participants to engage with nature slowly and deliberately, which can be a valuable strategy for kids to self-soothe and manage stress.

“Forest bathing activities pull us into the present moment without needing to be still,” Nazarian explains. “This helps children become more aware of their bodies. As they learn to be aware of how their body feels, they start to recognize how their bodies react to emotions as well.”

Making Forest Bathing Fun for the Whole Family

Of course, getting kids to slow down and be mindful can be a challenge. That’s why forest bathing experts recommend keeping the activities short, flexible, and fun. Helene Gibbons, a forest-bathing guide, has adapted many practices into five- to 15-minute breaks that teachers can do with children throughout the day.

“It’s not always realistic to do an hour-long forest-bathing walk with kids,” she says. “Shortening the amount of time you focus on a forest-bathing activity is one way to keep it loose, particularly for younger children. Giving them permission to talk and move around, regardless of the activity, is another way to be more flexible.”

And to make it truly engaging, Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and author, suggests asking questions that encourage children to focus on their senses. “What does the grass feel like? Can you see different shapes? Take a deep breath – what do you smell?” These activities help provide a fun, loose structure that encourages children to be more mindful of their natural surroundings.

Embracing the Magic of the Forest

I still remember those summer Wednesdays when my kids were little, when we’d pack a picnic and head to the nearby creek for a day of exploration and play. The branch of Thompson Creek that passes near our house isn’t grand by any means, but there’s a palpable sense of calm that comes from being surrounded by ragged, overgrown, perfectly natural habitat that no one has any obligation to prune, mow, or otherwise maintain.

As publisher James Fox-Smith describes, “Something about a visit to the creek produces a palpable sense of calm. I find being surrounded by ragged, overgrown, perfectly natural habitat that no one has any obligation to prune, mow, or otherwise maintain, to be profoundly relaxing. I suppose that this is what the concept of ‘forest bathing’ is all about.”

Now that our kids are grown, the creek seems more special than ever. Whenever our daughter comes home, the first thing she wants to do is go back there, to bake on hot sand, loll in the shallows, and gaze up at the dappled play of light and shadow through the canopy of leaves. Just like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandfather did before her.

In a stressful, speed-of-light world, where kids grow up in an instant and the to-do list extends toward infinity, we all benefit from taking time to stop, sit, listen to the water, skim a pebble, and remember where we came from. It’s what grounds us; it’s the only thing that ever has.

So, whether it’s a majestic forest or a humble creek, I encourage you to embrace the magic of nature with your little ones. Let the sights, sounds, and sensations of the great outdoors wash over you, and feel the weight of the world melt away, if only for a little while. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you.

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