“What’s this?”, "Why?” Every parent has heard a child ask these questions at least a thousand times. The words pop up while trying to: respond to emails, clean the house, buy groceries, pretty much at any multitasking moment of every busy day. But when it’s out in the woods – when you’ve got no bosses to answer to, errands to run or chores to do – a heightened sense of awareness and sudden curiosity emerge. Now that same question sparks a deeper more enriching dialogue that would simply be unachievable during everyday life.
Why is that? Well, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Leisure Research found the reason is that because outdoor activities are often isolated from the “normalized” world, they encourage a type of spontaneity that the whole family welcomes, even the adults. The study also found the family that plays together stays together, especially out in the woods.
In fact, according to a study published in the 2000 issue of Journal of Systemic Therapies, the benefits of this family-nature dynamic are so powerful that psychologists developed a form of psychotherapy based on it called “adventure therapy.” By metaphorically linking stressors within the family to physical challenges out in the woods, families work together to develop better interpersonal communication and problem-solving skills. More than that, they also deepen the sense of trust and interdependence among family members.
The benefits of spending time together outdoors extend beyond the family, too. In 1978, Thomas Tanner, professor of environmental studies at Iowa State University, conducted a study asking outdoor enthusiasts what had perpetuated their interests in protecting natural places.
“Far and away the most frequently cited influence was childhood experience of natural, rural or other relatively pristine habitats,” Tanner said. Since that study, more research has continued to support the fact that positive, direct experiences outside, especially with someone close to the child, make the greatest contribution to getting individuals to take action as adults to benefit the environment.
So know the next time you’re learning to paddle a river together, encouraging each other to zipline or just hiking side by side in the woods, you and your kids are doing more than having fun. You’re building bonds and creating memories that even Mother Nature will appreciate.