Holidays have felt a little off these past few years. Last year, we were asked to keep our gatherings small, not to travel, and even (in some cases) not to share serving spoons. This year, we're still apprehensive about going full family gatherings and, in some parts of the world, lockdowns are back. Celebrating together has been strange and unchartered territory.
But do you know what always stays the same? Nature.
It's always there for us. At the height of the pandemic, when we just couldn't bear to spend another moment indoors in fear, heading outside on a hike was reinvigorating, giving us a sense of hope that not all was different. Being in nature calms us, as we (and studies) know. It restores our attention and makes us happier. For our family, heading out on a hike during the pandemic was a needed respite from a strange and unknown time we were living through. What we did know, above all, is that nature would be there for us.
People around the world sought out nature as an escape during the pandemic. Hiking, camping, walking in parks, all saw increased numbers this year. Hopefully, this represents, as some say, a "silver lining" to the pandemic— that we have discovered nature. That we will have a renewed appreciation for it. Hopefully, this is true and so many of those children, who experienced the restorative effects of nature during the pandemic, will become lifelong nature stewards. That would truly be a silver lining.
This holiday season, take time to think about what nature has given your family this year. What have you been particularly grateful for? Was it the birds at your feeder providing a beautiful flurry of entertainment each morning? Was it your backyard garden, that helped your family feel connected to this earth by having a hand in growing food that would make it to your table? Or perhaps a new outdoor activity that your family took on, hiking, kayaking, climbing...that challenged your family and brought them closer together and to nature?
One way to capture these moments of thanks to nature is to ask each member of your family to write theirs out on a leaf. As you go around the table, ask each member of your gathering to read their leaf. You can learn from and about each other through these moments of thanks, and identify what activities you should do more of next year.
Your children might want to connect the leaves in a garland or perhaps create a poster or landscape that creatively incorporates the leaves. Leave that up to them. But one very important follow-up to this activity is to ask your family what you can do to give back to nature to show your thanks and to commit to that act. If your state park gave you a place to retreat to during the pandemic, perhaps you will purchase a family membership, make a donation or get involved in a volunteer effort to help protect it. If your garden offered a sanctuary, perhaps you will expand your garden, volunteer to help a community garden thrive or even donate to a local gardening program. Or perhaps you can give back to local, backyard critters by installing birdhouses, bat houses or a pond for wildlife. Maybe you decide to give back in a more general but vital way, by helping to plant trees around the world. We share some ways to give back to trees in this post on reasons kids should appreciate trees. We've spent a lot of time thinking of ways to give back to nature with fun family activities on Childhood by Nature so poke around for a while, and find what's right for your family.