Eye on Extension: Increasing your Vitamin N

VALLEY — Pediatricians around the country are increasingly writing prescriptions for more “vitamin N”. The “N” in this case stands for nature. More and more studies are showing that nature is good for our bodies, minds, and souls. Yet, many kids don’t have regular experiences out in the natural world.

Studies compiled by the Children & Nature Network find that exposure to nature can reduce stress and increase memory and attention among youth. It also has physical health benefits. Children who get outside regularly are more physically active and less at risk to develop obesity.

Parents can take advantage of these benefits by making nature a regular part of their kids’ lives. Writer Richard Louv outlines a ton of strategies for getting more vitamin N in his book, “Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life.” A good first step is putting nature time on the calendar. Getting outside seems easy, but with busy schedules, it can take a backseat to other commitments. So, it’s a good idea to pick a day or time each week and dedicate it to nature.

There are countless simple activities families can do during their nature time. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Go for a picnic in the local park. Look for bugs or birds in the backyard. Splash in the Rio Grande. The possibilities are endless.

When exploring the outdoors, try to let kids lead the way. They might want to climb a tree, splash in a puddle, or have a stick sword fight. By letting their kids decide how to interact with the natural world, parents are encouraging their curiosity.

Parents should take a back seat when their children are exploring and provide guidance only when it’s needed. Instead they can encourage kids to use their senses and think of questions about what they are discovering that they can research later. This helps kids become more engaged with the natural world.

Aside from free exploration, parents can encourage combining nature and art together. Try activities like going on a nature photo scavenger hunt, or making art with natural materials like sticks, leaves and flowers. These activities can help kids channel their creativity in interesting ways.

For families who are looking for support to get going, take advantage of community opportunities to get outside. One awesome option is Alamosa’s Weekends on the Rio. This event is held Sundays this summer at Cole Park. It features oodles of free activities that can help the whole family connect with nature like outdoor storytime, paddleboarding, and guided walks.

Parents can also look to groups like scouts and 4-H that offer programming and project work focused on the natural world. 4-H projects like sportfishing and outdoor adventures are great ways for families to connect and bond outdoors.

Remember that kids aren’t the only ones who can benefit from time outside. Adults can also improve their mental health and wellbeing by getting out in nature. So make a plan to include regular doses of vitamin N in your family’s summer.

Amy Henschen is the 4-H Youth Development Agent for Colorado State University Extension. To find out more about Extension and the 4-H program visit http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu or call 719-852-7381. Extension programs are available to all.