The Great Outdoors

By Sonja Smith

Spend your summer with nature to grow your family’s minds and bodies

II’m from a generation fondly known as 90s kids. You’ve probably seen them on what the movie apps call “classics”; a ragtag bunch running around town on their bicycles or playing a pick-up game of baseball on an old, abandoned field. I grew up on a quiet cul-de-sac that had a park at the top of a hill. From that hill I could see my little Cape Cod house and I knew I could stay outside until my mom pulled down the shade of my bedroom window, signaling that it was time to head home. All summer long we explored and exhausted ourselves in the fresh, breezy air until our freckled faces lay peacefully upon our pillows.

Now that I’m a mom myself, I watch my own kids experience nature and it breathes life back into my soul. I understand why my mother never said no to outdoor play.

Nature is beautiful. Some of us find a walk in the forest refreshing, some of us train to hike the tallest mountains and others long for the soothing lull of ocean waves. Our Creator did not have to make this earth so stunning, but it’s a gift we should not hold lightly. It’s part of our job as parents to expose our kids to this grandeur. We recently took a family trip to Arizona, and I loved watching my kids’ faces light up as they looked down from the peak they had climbed and realized the vastness of the mountain range. Seeing nature through the eyes of your children gives it a whole new, raw beauty.

Nature is life-giving. After spending time outside, each member of my family is more emotionally stable and joyful. Nothing can compare to breathing fresh air or the way sunshine stimulates our brains. When we spend time outside, we sleep better, we heal faster and we move our bodies more. Outdoor play exposes us to things that strengthen our immune systems and allows our nervous systems to thrive.

Nature builds our creativity and curiosity about the world. Being still outside lets us notice little details that our busy schedules wouldn’t normally allow. When my kids focus on a hummingbird hovering, the way a dandelion turn to seeds or how quickly a Texas storm thunders in, their subsequent questions often lead to us learning new facts together. Other times this is when my children’s innate curiosity and creativity shine. I get a deeper look into the way their brains think and realize the jobs they may thrive in when they get older.

The benefits of nature are why we propose spending time outside every day. We are so blessed to live in a city like Waco that offers a wide variety of outdoor activities.

Not sure where to start? Woodway Park and Twin Bridges Park both have sandy beach areas, as well as benches for picnic lunches and play apparatuses. For the adventurous explorers, I suggest the trail systems of Cameron Park. For those who enjoy nature with less unknown, the paved pathways of the Cotton Belt Trail are the perfect place to get those steps in. Check out even more ideas on this month’s feature, In Our Own Backyard, on page [85] for a list of fun spaces to take your family this summer in and around Waco. There are endless possibilities for making memories.

Exploring with your family doesn’t need to cost anything more than your time and imagination. I promise the memories you make, and the benefits to your body, will be well worth every minute!