Get Your Kids Outside for Fun and Health Benefits

As the new school year approaches, with all its newness and confusion, it’s time to take advantage of the last weeks of warm weather. Summer is the perfect opportunity to get your kids outside and swap online surfing for bodysurfing, screens for streams, and phones for fun.

kids outside

Parks are one of the best places to find a mix of relaxation and fun for the whole family. There’s no need to convince kids, they are always ready to go to the park. One of my favorite memories was meeting with four other families for a day of celebration. The kids all of all ages explored and new friendships formed, even among the tiniest members. Whether dousing the days heat in splash pads, blowing bubbles or digging in the sand, it was sweet to see friendships quickly evolve and parents relax a bit and enjoy time together. Even with proper physical distancing, this is something you should try to make happen with your kids before the weather changes. During these tough times, families need friendships and being outdoors allows us to be together safely and bring a much-needed feeling of connection.

Here are some ideas to get your family outside:

  1. On the weekends, try to retreat to local state parks. Explore the trails and enjoy being outside away. These places always bring the best photo opportunities and greatest memories. For example, my daughter is a climber (maybe you have one of those too), any day on the trail you’ll find her half way up a tree.
  2. Bring birdseed and leave a trail of bird food. It’s fun to see the birds on the way back.
  3. Find a place to pick berries along the way (blackberries, mulberries are favorites for our family).
  4. If going to a local park isn’t possible, try to get outside and play after dinner each night. Old fashioned races, bike parades, frisbee and taking a walk are all fun and healthy options.

When you find the time to get your kids outside, you’ll not only be creating opportunities for your kids to use their imagination in nature, but you’ll be setting them up for a healthier life. As this study in Turkey shows, children whose families spend time with them in nature are healthier, more social, more successful and happier in their classrooms. Getting outdoors in nature promotes health by enhancing immune system function and, as this recent study shows, reducing acute and chronic pain for those who suffer with it.

The trends toward kids spending less time outdoors has been going on for sometime. Between 1997 and 2003 there has been a 50% decline in the amount of time 9-12 year-olds spend recreating outdoors1. There is even a name for it, called biophobia or nature deficit disorder. A loss of regular contact with nature has led to physical and emotional developmental issues among children.1

Families are not the only ones that struggle to get outdoors, in schools, teachers have little time for outdoor education because indoor classroom time takes up most of the day. Yet studies show that outdoor learning significantly increases student engagement in subsequent classroom lessons.

Being outdoors also helps children feel connected to the welfare of our planet. A lack  of exposure to nature can lead to a disregard for the welfare of our planet and the environment and lead to a disconnect from place and community. There are countless costs associated with excess technology and lack of physical activity. Children who watch more TV have poorer sleep quality and duration, which leads to difficulties with behavior and energy. Furthermore, higher levels of screen time, and lower levels of outdoor play, are associated with poorer social skills in children.

Here are some fun summer activities that promote health and fosters a greater connection to nature and one other:

Adventuring – Look for trails in local neighborhoods and parks to build adventure and give kids time to simply roam. The joys of finding what’s around the next corner often distract from the level of physical difficulty and inspires curiosity in young and older minds alike. Children build strengths in leadership, teamwork and navigation through outdoor adventure activities.

Fun ideas include: hide-and-go seek outdoors, biking around the neighborhood and a walk with neighbors or family friends. Keep a list of all the places within a 10 mile of your home to explore and set a goal to visit all of them.

Engaging – Learn about the local plants and animals in your region. Look for local classes or guided walks or purchase a guide book dedicated to your region. As kids explore the outdoors, they become familiar with local wild berries, roots, plants and leaves. Bring a journal to record them by name and learn more about how they grow. This activity creates connection with nature and instills a sense of stewardship and appreciation for local plants. This also enhances a child’s vocabulary, language, and science skills, leads to greater confidence.

Fun ideas include: Find a sit spot – a safe and inviting place – to regularly visit. Bring art supplies for outdoor nature art. Collect leaves, flowers, play animal charades outdoors, observe insects and birds and talk about their role in the eco-system.  As the season progresses, ask children to record the changes they see.

Creating – Spend time outdoors harvesting fruits, vegetables and flowers from your garden or a visit a neighborhood cooperative garden. Talk about a recipe and plan a meal. Learning to cook, measure and understand how to use different foods offers children a way to connect with their food, eat healthfully, and understand more about where foods come from. Flowers can be pressed for art or arranged in a bouquet as gifts or to beautify your home. Harvesting herbs is a fun way to talk about the value of natural medicine, its purpose, and understand how to care for our bodies.

Fun ideas include: Make a mud pie kitchen, create an obstacle course, collect seeds to plant next spring, use flowers and brightly colored foods for natural dye project, build a camping site in the back yard.

Giving — The places we live hold so much history. Explore the natural history of your neighborhood region and visit a specific site of interest. Look for ways to support the health of the natural environment, region, volunteer at a local watershed or cooperative garden farm or do trail maintenance. These community and place-based activities help foster a sense of community, greater awareness of our region and local history.

Fun ideas include: Call on friends to collect food and excess neighborhood produce for your community shelter and food bank. Donate time to a neighbor or local organization in need, leave a bouquet of flowers on a friend or stranger’s doorstep, participate in local museum programs.

Playing and doing – Chart the evening skies, learn about stars, planets and constellations. You may have to drive away from the light pollution. Phone apps are easy ways to track the names of the constellations.

Fun ideas include: Set up a telescope each night, light a bonfire and chart the stars. Find a comfy spot for a picnic, cloud watch and blow a million bubbles in the breeze.

Remember that doing most anything outdoors, including reading a book outdoors, hanging laundry to dry, having a dinner picnic at the park and relaxing in the evening light, can have a positive impact for your family’s health. Remember that natural spaces are a calming way to reduce stress and relieve the pressures of the day – kids are no exception.


BreAnna M. Guan, ND, is the owner of the fertility and women’s health practice, Balanced Natural Heal. Dr. Guan provides support virtually to families across the country. She served as the president of the Indiana Association of Naturopathic Physicians. In 2018, she created the first-ever Nourish Women’s Health Conference to raise awareness of naturopathic medicine and inspire women towards health. Dr. Guan’s mission is to empower women and families to thrive during fertility, pregnancy, and parenthood, to positively impact generations to come. For more information, contact: www.drbreannaguan.com.

This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
  1. Louv, Richard, Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books, 2005.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

Get Involved!

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.