All kids need a big dose of unencumbered outdoor exploration in nature (Vitamin N), which is oftentimes messy and dirty, but is crucial for their development.
Though modern technology makes parenting easier in so many ways, it also makes it harder. Nowadays, it’s more common to spot a child’s nose pointed at an iPad instead of stuck in a book. Nature clubs are becoming obsolete and gaming clubs are on the rise. Organized sports have taken over and free play is often forgotten.
But when I remove all the modern conveniences and fluff from our lives and I think about what makes my kids the happiest, it all becomes quite simple and clear: a big dose of Vitamin N.
What is Vitamin N?
Author Richard Louv first coined the term Vitamin N (which simply means nature) back in the early 2000s, when he began writing books bringing to light nature deficiency in youth due to a modernized society. A nature-rich life, Louv says, is vital for our physical and mental health in today’s technology-dependent age: “The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need,” he says. Louv’s books outline how important nature is for children’s development, affecting “everything from a positive effect on the attention span, to stress reduction, to cognitive development and their sense of wonder and connection to the earth.”
To me, Vitamin N is unencumbered outdoor exploration. It’s free unstructured play in the wild. And yes, Vitamin N is oftentimes messy and dirty and the bath water at the end of the day will definitely be brown. But, I believe that Vitamin N is paramount to raising a well-balanced generation that can view life more critically from multiple angles. A strong nature connection offers a hands-on approach for kids that stimulates all five senses—often at once. In essence, Vitamin N helps to balance out the virtual worlds they encounter each day.
For my family, Vitamin N is not an all-or-nothing approach. My kids love planned out kids’ areas such as playgrounds or the zoo or the aquarium. And any parent will understand when I say that sometimes the only way I can get a shower is to give my kids 20 minutes of screen time. Vitamin N is not about living as if we are the stars of Little House on the Prairie; it’s about taking a love of nature with us, regardless of where modernization leads us.
As a mom to four kids, here is why, where and how we get as much Vitamin N as we can:
Why Kids Need Vitamin N:
- It balances out our technology-dependent world: Even if they aren’t on a device, kids see their parents on their phones and using computers all the time—because we need digital communication for jobs and life efficiency, at the very least. We use technology to FaceTime with distant family, look up a recipe on Pinterest for dinner, pay bills online, locate the phone number for our Pharmacy…and the list of beneficial uses goes on and on. Vitamin N isn’t about removing technology from our lives, it’s about balancing the scale with a large dose of nature.
- They exhibit better behavior: I’m sure most parents will agree that being cooped up inside for too long makes their kids (and parents themselves) go crazy. When my kids are outside, they have more space and freedom and less of a chance of me having to get onto them—because it’s much harder to destroy nature than to destroy our home.
- It encourages discovery: What better way to learn about all the subjects they are studying at school (or preschool for us), than to see things first-hand in nature? My kids are constantly running up to me to show me items they’ve found outside that may seem rather ordinary to me, but are captivating to them. They collect piles of shiny mica, interesting rocks and sticks that double as swords.
- It promotes creativity: Free play in nature promotes creativity and kids’ imaginations. I constantly hear my oldest child (the leader of the pack), tell his siblings, “Let’s build a castle” or “Pretend this fort is our house and I’m the dad.”
Where to Get Vitamin N:
- hiking trails
- backyards (even front yards)
- open fields
- state/national parks
- grassy areas
How to Get Vitamin N:
- Free unstructured play
- Scavenger hunts
- Fort building
- Tree climbing
- Creek playing
- Dirt digging
- Puddle jumping
- Wildlife hunting
- Garden growing
- Campfire creation
For many, these suggestions sound so simple and rudimentary. But that’s just it. As complex as life is day to day, I want to preserve these simple moments for my kids in the hopes that it helps them to flourish as individuals.
And I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m stressed or impatient or worn down, some time outdoors is just about the only thing that will refresh me and help change my attitude and priorities. And the same is true with my kids; when they are tired or fussy or even under the weather, outdoor time seems to be the cure-all. Thankfully, there are unlimited refills on Vitamin N for kids without any chance for overdosing.
How do you encourage your kids to get Vitamin N?