Introducing the Joy of Friluftsliv to Our Kids

Last year, the word du jour was hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). Everybody was hygge-ing it up with their warm drinks, home-baked goodies, and candles, trying to create the sense of coziness that the philosophy embodies.

I personally embrace the concept. I’m an introverted, albeit family-oriented homebody, so my personality is pretty much designed to revel in all that warm, intimate togetherness. In the-ber months here in the Philippines, it can be cool enough so hot cocoas, frequent cuddles, and a perpetually steaming, cinnamon-scented kitchen become even more enjoyable.  Take note, I said more enjoyable – that means we’re a people who are used to hot dishes and drinks as well as cozy snuggles in varying degrees of tropical heat.

This year, however, another Scandinavian word is working its way into popular consciousness. Friluftsliv, an ancient Nordic philosophy that literally translates to “free air life”, is about spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

Unlike hygge, which is easy enough to say even for my untrained tongue, friluftsliv is quite the mouthful, and it will trip my tongue and tangle it up if I say it without proper preparation. It also takes similar effort for me to get behind it, not because I don’t agree with it since I wholeheartedly do, but because my mental conditioning tries to limit me to comfy, air-conditioned, wildlife-free interiors.

It’s all a lie, though, I’ve discovered. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. The problem is that I have a tendency to be lazy and finicky, an inclination I used to frequently indulge, which unfortunately led me to turning down opportunities to get out there and choosing to stay comfortably ensconced within the confines of my home. I’ve found though that when I did step out of my comfort zone, my effort was always rewarded. Being out there in nature never failed to enrich me.

Being a parent in this day and age, I have to be even more diligent about making that conscious effort to spend time outdoors. It was author Richard Louv who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder”, and it’s a truly alarming condition, considering so many children are happy to vegetate at home, staring at a screen for hours on end. This activity, and I use the word with irony, is something that has been associated to the exacerbation of mental and emotional disorders, so parents really have to be vigilant in qualifying and quantifying the exposure that their children get. In my opinion, and I’ve been to known to have reasonable ones, the natural world is as fine an exposure as children can get.

Spending a lot of time in nature, as what friluftsliv advocates, is important to a person’s wellbeing. Human beings were meant to live in it and not in the artificial setting we’ve come to fashion for ourselves. Something integrally within us seeks out the natural world and connects with it. That’s why when we give ourselves a healthy dose of nature, we feel revived. We get that kind of energy from a living, breathing world.

They might not have called it friluftsliv, but the experts have been pushing us to ingrain it into the lifestyle of our families. It is quite easy and cheap to do too. Contrary to popular expectation, outdoor recreation does not have to be extremely rugged. You don’t have to go rappelling, spelunking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, etc.

You don’t have to travel a long distance either to experience nature. Where I live, a stroll around the neighborhood is sufficient. There are nearby parks that also serve quite well. Nearby university campuses have also nice offerings in the way of greenery. Graveyards have also been known to work for us. When we want to be in the thick of wildlife, we fortunately only need to go for a short drive. We live in a river valley and the mountains surrounding us have plenty to offer that bears exploring.

What do we hope to gain by observing friluftsliv? The benefits include increased physical activity, lower stress levels, and seriously quality time spent either alone or with company. And you get to achieve all of them amid the beauty of God’s creation, which is unparalleled.

Do you feel the lure of nature? What do you do to make sure that you and  your family regularly get to connect with it?

6 Excellent Reasons Why Birdwatching Is Worth Your While

Java Sparrow in Intramuros

We went birdwatching in Intramuros the other day. This was the third time we took advantage of the free guided birding trips periodically offered by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. Not only that, I finally signed up to become a member. I’ve been wanting to join the club for the longest time and I finally did it. Yay, me! It only took me seven years.

My primary reason for joining is that I’ve always enjoyed birdwatching. I’m as much a “Look at that bird” person as a “Look at the moon” one, I suppose. 😀 My spark bird (the one that ignited the interest in birdwatching) was a bee hummingbird I spotted one morning while I was vacationing at my aunt’s home in Southern California.

During that trip, I also frequently saw bluebirds, seagulls, crows, and Pelicans. For a girl who’d never seen anything but Eurasian tree sparrows (maya) and pigeons freely flying about (I was wrong about this, btw), seeing different kinds of birds in the wild (well, suburban wild) was a huge deal.

Birdwatching is definitely an activity that I want to share with my family. It’s my own interest, but I believe that my kids can benefit so much from engaging in it as well. Let me list the obvious perks that come with birdwatching.

  1. You learn about nature and appreciate how full of wonders it is. Different aspects of nature are intertwined, so the knowledge gained won’t be limited to birds. The impact on your kids could also be that, from being exposed to nature, they won’t be easily impressed by materialistic goods. If you’re a homeschooler, you could also integrate birdwatching into nature walks, make creating a safe habitat for birds a project, etc.
  2. You get yourself outdoors. Have you ever heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder? Child advocacy expert Richard Louv coined the term, which refers to the condition in which human beings, particularly the young, spend less time outdoors, resulting in various behavioral problems. It’s important to get yourself and your family outdoors. If you’re kind of a homebody, you can start with your backyard, gradually move on to the park, and then move on to easy nature hikes. Perhaps you can venture farther and attempt something even more outdoorsy from there. You get to enjoy the fresh air, soak up the recommended daily dosage of Vitamin D, and have an adventure.
  3. You get some great exercise – So engrossed in watching birds, you won’t notice that you’re walking miles at a time. This gives you a solid cardio workout. You also build up the strength of your upper arms, having to lug around spotting scopes as well as lift binoculars and hold them steadily.
  4. You effectively develop skills necessary to slow living. You learn to be more patient since birdwatching is not an exercise in instant gratification. Sometimes you have to wait hours (or years) to spot the bird you want to see. Besides that, birdwatching can also be a meditative activity and provide you with plenty of opportunity for contemplation and introspection.
  5. You hone quick reflexes and mental alertness at the same time that you develop patience. Birds won’t stop and pose for you while you scramble for your binoculars and focus them accordingly. You also need to be fast at spotting clues of a bird’s presence and identifying its kind based on the features you saw, no matter how fleetingly.
  6. You become a member of a special community. By becoming a birdwatcher, not only do you gain the physical and mental benefits of the activity, you also boost your social health. It’s a great way to meet kindred spirits, both offline and online.

Do you love birdwatching? Do you find it interesting and see yourself taking it up? Or do you think it’s, well, for the birds? Let us know your thoughts on this and tell us which birds you frequently see in your neighborhood.

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Screen-free Week: Unplug Your Kids

Screen-free Week is almost halfway over, but if you haven’t been observing it, there’s still plenty of time to practice being screen-free, or at the very least, considerably unplugged. Being a writer in this age, and a blogger, at that, the most I can do without sacrificing work is to significantly lessen my time in front of the screen. Thankfully, my cell phone gave up the ghost a couple of months back and I have yet to find the motivation to replace it. We also don’t have the usual video games and we’re not getting any ever as long as I have anything to say about it. But we do have a tablet; my daughter uses it for watching movies and playing a few educational games, including taking care of that pet poop-like creature Pou… I can tell that I’m about to go off on an angry tangent about technology since I’m part-Amish and part-Greg Kinnear’s character in You’ve Got Mail, so I’m wrenching myself away from that particular train of thought. In any case, I’m definitely not one to talk since, as much as I disapprove, I do find much practical use in these digital devices, including the tablet, which I mostly use for reading those free ebooks I’ve been hoarding in my Cloud reader.

But if you are interested in the idea behind Screen-free Week, here are some helpful resources for suggestions on alternative activities to do, inspiration for being unplugged, etc.

Screen-free Week Online Resources:

The Slacker’s Guide to Screen-Free Week (activity suggestions divided into Morning, Afternoon, and Evening)

Get Ready for Screen-Free Week: 30 Great Activities and Printables (screen-time statistics, tips for enjoying Screen-free Week better, activity suggestions divided into Fun with Reading, Active Fun, Outdoor Fun, Arts and Crafts, In the Kitchen, Family Time, and Dinner Time Printables)

National Screen-Free Week: A Survival Guide (11 suggestions, plus a link to a Snow Day Survival Guide, which might also apply)

75 Activities for Screen-Free Week (a family’s set of rules for observing Screen-free Week, a downloadable/printable list of suggested activities)

Family Goes Screen-Free, Stays Screen-Free (a mother’s account of how observing Screen-free Week led to generally screen-free kids)

Screen-Free Week: 2012 Recap (I love this post – please take the time to read it. We focus too much on the kids going screen-free that we fail to notice if we’re applying the same principle to ourselves.)

Take the Screen-Free Challenge (lays down research-based premise for diminishing screen-time)

 

How about some ebooks?

Finding Educational Activities in the Most Unexpected Places: 200+ Activities for Young Children Using Common Household Objects

Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun.

Beginning Montessori With Infants and Tots Birth to 24 Months

 

Or traditional books?

Goodnight iPad: a Parody for the next generation

The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

 

Sometime during Screen-free Week, we’ll be working on many of the items on our summer 2013 bucket list, one of which is to make lots of fairy houses. Marguerite rediscovered this old favorite going through my other blog. We also have many arts and crafts projects lined up for this week, as well as some activities Marguerite saw on Pinterest (we browse through boards together) and wants to do. Cameron is sure to be a cheerful participant in all these.

fairyhouse

What about you? Are you going to observe Screen-free Week? Do you have your own ideas for making the experience extra special? Please share.

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