A quick note and link.

Hello readers,

I thought you might be interested in reading this article:

http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/sustainable-living/think-outside-sandbox

Yes, I already blogged on this particular garden before, but I was happy to get a magazine article out of it as well.

Oh, and for those of you who missed the update about the SPECIES OF THE WEEK feature moving, you can find it here: https://featuredspecies.wordpress.com/

Please subscribe to that if you don’t want to miss those posts! I just blogged there too:

https://featuredspecies.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/why-does-my-tree-have-acne/

Cheers,

Cathy

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Healthy Parks, Healthy People: The Nature Prescription

This past week, I attended a conference called “Healthy Parks, Healthy People.” I like attending events like this, and being surrounded by people who genuinely understand the IMG_20140914_105742importance of time in nature, not just from an academic standpoint, but also from years of experience, and a lifetime spent closely in tune with the natural world.  (http://www.hphpcentral.com/)

The attendees of conferences like these provide real hope for the future of parks, sustainability and human health.  There were parks managers, program directors, ecologists, students, professors, psychologists, conservationists, consultants and more.

While everyone takes something slightly different away from any event, there was one particular aspect of this conference that stuck with me. Given everything we know about the physical, social and psychological benefits of time in nature, it is time for health practitioners to embrace nature as a valuable tool both for healing and for preventative medicine.

I don’t need to go into the specific benefits of time in nature in this particular post. You can find some of my previous posts on this at the end. In short, the evidence for the benefits is clear.

PLAY-OUTSIDE-PRESCRIPTION

Image courtesy of Children & Nature Network.

Given that fact, there is a relatively new movement of physicians providing actual prescriptions for nature time. You can read more about the Parks Rx program here.

Will this be effective? I don’t know, but I hope to see research one day. While I really like the idea, there is one argument that says that turning nature time into a kind of “medicine” may make it less palatable. Then again, perhaps a medical doctor is well-positioned to convince people of the benefits and get them out the door and down the forest path.

That said, what will be (and has been proven to be) effective, is positioning interactive wellness programs, run by professionals, into natural settings.

As the number of people with anxiety and depression is heading towards “pandemic,” and as researchers struggle to find solutions that don’t come in a bottle, simple suggestions such as the pursuit of mindfulness meditation, and time spent in nature are gaining traction. AND, the body of scientific literature which demonstrates the effectiveness of these “treatments” is rapidly expanding. There is a research field called ecopsychology that arose in the 1990s which recognizes the interactions between humans and the natural environment.

There are now countless examples of organizations that employ the natural world as a necessary partner in healing. Here are some examples:

  • At the conference, we heard from one organization that is having great success taking older adults with mental health challenges on “Mood Walks” in green places.  http://www.moodwalks.ca/
  • Numerous organizations take youth struggling with mental illness or addiction into wilderness areas to promote healing and develop coping strategies. Here is one such organization:  http://pineriverinstitute.com/
  • In Japan, in the 1980s, “Shinrin-yoku” was born. It translates roughly to “forest bathing” and recognizes the many healing powers of nature. The movement and research has even been the recipient of substantial government funding.  http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/

Here are a couple of great short articles on the topic:

Alternatives Journal – Prescribing a Dose of Nature

I have also blogged on nature & health a few times:

IMG_20140717_144950The Healing Power of Nature

Ten Good Reasons why Children Need Greenspaces

20 Reasons to Drop Everything and Go Outside

Given all of the successful research being done around the world in the area of nature therapy, I believe it is time for our governments and the medical community to step up and embrace it as a critical part of effective healthcare.

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The Birth of a new Blog

Hello fellow nature enthusiasts!

I have decided to take the Species of the Week feature and move it over to a separate Word Press site. I think it might attract a different sort of audience, and I wanted all the Species blog posts in one place.

That said, if you are a subscriber of my blog and would like to continue to get the species of the week posts, please subscribe to:

https://featuredspecies.wordpress.com/

I will be taking the next little while to re-blog all of my previous species posts, and then will start adding new ones. Please bear with me during this transition!

Thanks everyone!

– Cathy

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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

“YOU DWOPPED MY FWENDS??!!!”

The other day, I committed the ultimate parent-to-a-3-year-old sin.IMG_20140609_105152

My son had just shoved a few mud-encrusted rocks into my hand. After a few minutes, when I thought he had moved on to other business, I tossed them back on the ground. Apparently I was wrong. These friends required immediate rescue.

The term “friend” can have so many interpretations. My littlest applies it to anything he likes. I have watched him chasing frogs and moths across the yard. “What are you doing, honey?” “Playing with my fwends!”

We teach children a very broad definition of “friend.” We encourage them to befriend stuffed animals, assigning them human characteristics and sometimes voices. (Note, this picture with the stuffed animals was entirely un-posed). IMG_9902Kindergarten teachers often start the day with “Good Morning Friends!” At that point in life, every child in your class is “your friend.” Not until grade 1 or 2 do you realize that maybe not everyone is worthy of your friendship, after all. And, of course, ever since a giant purple dinosaur sang “I love you, you love me,” we all know that television brings us regular doses of virtual friendship.

Then again, many of us adults do the same thing, don’t we? How many of your facebook “friends” could you call friends in real life? How many are current friends? Long-ago friends? Acquaintances? People you just met? Friends of friends? Obligatory friends? And, dear readers, in some ways, I consider you all friends. You have taken time out of your busy life to listen to what I have to say, and I appreciate that.

So, has the term “friend” lost any meaning? I don’t think so. I think this approach is a valuable tool to help teach children empathy; to introduce the world as a positive place where a friend can be found in the backyard or just next door; and to give them a sense of brotherhood with all of humanity (and beyond?).

So, my little man, if you decide that any vegetable, mineral, or animal is your friend, who am I to judge? I don’t really see a downside at this point (though I may steer you away from befriending bees or skunks).

And, I’m sorry. Next time, I will take better care of your fwends.

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Climb Every Mountain

It’s March and the snow hasn’t really given much thought to melting yet. The banks are still as high as an elephant’s eye.

One might think that February’s record-breaking cold weather would deter a 3-year old mountain climber from scaling every single *insert expletive of choice* snow bank on the way from the car to the school and back again. One would be wrong.IMG_20150302_152636

When I was small, my grandmother would take us to the giant piles of snow in the grocery store parking lots so we could climb up and slide down over and over. Thank you for your patience, Grandma!

Snow does make for a fabulously flexible and diverse landscape for play, doesn’t it? When I’m at the schoolyard, I find it fascinating how the piles of snow seem to morph over time, subject to countless games of king of the castle, fortress building, and tunnel digging as well as continuous additions and subtractions due to adult maintenance and weather.

Every year, the snow tells a different story.

Despite my appreciation for this ever-changing playground, I find myself increasingly frustrated, as I rescue my little stuck mountain climber from a huge pile of ice and snow for the umpteenth time on our 100m walk.

Patience Mommy… spring is around the corner.

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The Butterfly Conservatory: A place to go at 30 below.

IMG_20131107_102207When you pass through the door, the warm humid air envelops you like a hug. Then, you smell …. yes, the unmistakable smell of “green.” A giant, sapphire blue butterfly swoops past your shoulder and lands on a red hibiscus flower. You hear gently splashing water, and as you seek out the source, you stop to let a small yellow bird hop across your path into the lush garden of tropical plants.

Do you live near a butterfly conservatory? When the thermometer dips below “freeze the toes off a polar bear,” this is the place to be.

It’s wonderful for kids and adults of IMG_20131107_101710all ages. There are no lineups, no dangers, and few places to hide from mom and dad. We got a membership, so both of my kids spent plenty of time learning to walk (and run) there. They loop around the pathways, delighting at the swooping butterflies and birds, and excitedly pointing out each one they find (though they are everywhere). There are plenty of benches.

Friendly staff members are eager to introduce some of the other creatures inhabiting the conservatory, from birds to giant snails to intimidating insects. They also have many programs, and in a couple of weeks, we will venture over there again to taste some delicacies for “BugFeast.”

IMG_20130806_144212 I never get tired of going to the conservatory.  I find it particularly helps us get through the dark and dingy, cold and cranky days of February and March. I miss my garden.

The conservatory also does important work for butterfly (and other insect) conservation.

(Also, my sons find their coin-spinning fundraising bucket particularly entertaining.)

Here’s one location.  http://www.cambridgebutterfly.com/

I hope you can visit one too.

(Note:  they didn’t hire me to write this).

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The Song of the Boot

It’s been cold lately. Not sure if you’ve noticed. Our school board already cancelled one day of school for -35oC weather, and it looks like they might do it again tomorrow.

Last week, my 3 year old son and I sledwere trudging through the snow from the car to the school to pick up big brother (I am NOT pulling a sled for 20 minutes each way, and waiting another 15 in -35oC. To heck with principles!). I was rushing us along, trying to find respite from the wind. Then, from my little 3-foot bundle of scarf, hat and snowsuit, I hear the muffled words:

 “My boots are singing a song!”

Remember when you used to notice the squeaking, crunching noise that comes from your boots on the snow on very cold days? Remember how neat that sounded?

What a great reminder!

Another excellent lesson in mindfulness from one of my most important teachers.

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