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Sunday, June 7, 2015

book - How to Get Kids Offline, Outdoors, and Connecting with Nature by Bonnie Thomas

I am really excited to feature local Maine author, Bonnie Thomas, on my blog this week! She is a Child and Family Counselor, mother, and author of the book How to Get Kids Offline, Outdoors, and Connecting with Nature - 200+ Creative activities to encourage self-esteem, mindfulness, and wellbeing.

I love this book for many reasons, including how I can use it in my work as a school counselor, but most importantly about how amazing her ideas are for being the coolest mom ever - simply by getting OUTSIDE and connecting to nature. I have a son who I tell everyone "being outside is like medication or air to breathe for him - he NEEDS it!" My son is better behaved in the months when we can get outside. He's happier. We are more in sync with each other, more patient and having WAY more fun when we're outside daily for an hour or more. In the long winter months when we can't get out as much, I notice a big difference in our household. We're grateful that three of four seasons we can be outside for an hour a day no issues, living in Maine we have that luxury.

Even if you aren't a nature or camping or outdoors person, you NEED to read this book! She gives you great tips for bringing nature indoors and using natural things like rocks for your kids to play and enjoy the benefits of the natural world.

Images from Bonnie Thomas

As a school counselor, I loved these activities to use with students: 
  • Draw your family as animals, body of water or tree.  (page 34)
  • Wish books - filling journals or art books with pictures, words, etc of wishes and hopes and dreams. I LOVE this idea! (page 39)
  • Message stones -writing words, pictures, etc on rocks and stones you find outdoors, painting them, etc. (page 75)
As a mom, I loved these ideas:
  • Making a fort out of snow!
  • Snow picnic - eating outside, hot cocoa, etc.
  • Scavenger hunts outside to find objects 
  • Painting acorns in the fall - never thought to paint faces on acorns and then let my kids play with them. So fun! 
  • Just being OUTSIDE - running, jumping, touching, getting dirty!

THANK YOU, Bonnie, for answering some questions about your important work. I admire what a wonderful path you have led with your own son and now helping others to incorporate nature into our work and daily motherhood adventures. Thank you again! 

1. How many children do you have? 
I have one child, a 15 year old son

2. What is your work background? 
I have always worked in the field of social work and counseling.  The list is pretty long but I've worked in psychiatric hospital settings with children; I've worked in group homes for teens; I've worked with juvenile offenders; I helped to design and coordinate a mentoring program for youth living in public housing; and for the last  15 years or so I've been doing child and family counseling. 

3. How do you use nature in your everyday practice as a counselor? 
I keep nature based materials in my office that kids enjoy looking through and doing crafts with -- sometimes we make worry dolls, fidgets, puppets, or other crafts that combine coping strategies and self expression with the natural materials at hand. Some kids just find it soothing and calming to look through a container of different rocks or shells.    I also use visualization that frequently involves nature based imagery-- the kids especially like visualizations that involve playing or relaxing with animals, swimming in warm ocean waters, or flying in the sky.  These are all activities that are easily accessible rain or shine, indoors or outdoors-- so I use these the most.

4. How do/did you use nature in your everyday life as a mother? 
It's depended on his age and season, but when my son was younger we would play and explore outdoors a lot.  We built snow forts, went walking in the mud, looked for frogs and salamanders, had picnics,  collected natural materials for projects, etc.   As he got older we did more hiking, exploring trails, and letterboxing.  We started going on annual camping trips as well so he could experience sleeping and cooking outdoors.  Now that he's a teenager we schedule our time differently.  We don't have time every day to get outdoors and/or spend time together.  It's more like a couple days a week now.  But we still explore trails, marshes, beaches, the woods, etc. and do some gardening or walks together.  We still take annual camping trips and explore new parks and trails along the way.  

Follow Bonnie's blog at :

5. What are some of your top 3 favorite suggestions for busy parents to incorporate nature into their children's daily experiences? 

Eat a meal outside, skip a gym workout and play outdoors with your kids instead, go for a walk with your kids before bedtime.  

6. Why is it important for our children to get outdoors more to connect with nature? 

The natural world is more conducive to our well being. We need fresh air; it's healthy to get your hands in the dirt-- it's not only good for your immune system, but the microbes in the dirt/soil act similar to antidepressants; sunshine provides a vitamin D boost; and kids need to play, run around, explore, and be just be kids.   What better place to do all of that than outdoors? 
7. Why specifically is it important for our children to get offline more? How do you see technology becoming a problem for some youth?
I am not anti-electronics but I think, like many things,  there needs to be moderation and balance.  Too much of anything can be detrimental.  For those children who grow up with TV shows, online videos, and video games as their "babysitter" or main daily activity, that's concerning for many reasons. 

Childhood is a critical time to learn self regulation and if they only learn to self regulate via electronics they are not going to fare well in their relationships, education, careers, etc.   Kids need social interaction, nurturing, boundaries, and plenty of time to play (and yes, outdoors when possible).  

8. Where did you find most of your ideas, what inspires you?
I get bored easily and I have ADHD, so I have a tough time being idle.  I like to explore and experiment with objects and activities which then leads to finding new ways to do something or new ways to use an object.  Pretty much everything inspires me. 
9. What is your personal favorite thing to do outdoors that helps you feel like a more patient, calmer, in control and relaxed, energized mother?
It depends on the season.  In the warmer months I do a lot of yard work.  Yard work is a great work out, so it releases a lot of stress and boosts my endorphins;  I get vitamin D from the sun which helps with my well being; I get fresh air; I experience mindfulness and relaxation as I observe all the natural phenomena happening around me (listening to the birds, watching wildlife, smelling the flowers, etc.); and when I go back indoors I have this beautiful yard to look at.  So for me, yard work encompasses a lot of positive benefits and helps me feel connected to the natural world that is right outside my door. 

10. What is your advice to busy moms who feel they are rushing to and from school, work, practice, lessons, errands, etc. and feeling like they haven't had enough time outside to just BE?

Listen to your gut.  If you are wanting or needing more time outdoors and/or if you are feeling overscheduled, then simplify your life and do more of what makes you feel healthy and happy.  Be the example of how you'd like your kids to manage their own well being.  

If you need or desire more time outside, try to incorporate it into what you already do.  For example, if you are going to eat dinner anyways, eat it outdoors.  You could eat on your back steps, on a patio, or on a blanket in the yard.   

If you need physical activity to relieve some stress, get yourself and the kids outdoors and do something together-- have the kids ride their bikes while you run, play basketball or tag with them, build a fort in the yard, etc.  I think any mom will tell you though, if you need time outdoors all by yourself, just ask if anyone wants to help you rake the yard or do other yard work.  I can almost guarantee you will get your time alone outdoors :)
11. Can you share a fun outdoor memory or experience you've had with your children over the years that explains how important it is to you to get kids outdoors?

Making memories is one of the best gifts you can give your children, in my opinion.  The more time you spend with your kids, the more memories you will make.   

However, I find that doing something slightly out of the norm is what makes an event especially  more memorable.  For example, my son and I used to build a snow fort every winter, which was memorable on its own.  But the most memorable part  is that we would choose one night to have dinner in the fort, usually by candlelight.   We also read bedtime stories in the fort, or had snacks and hot cocoa in the fort for a winter picnic. 
12. What do you feel are the benefits for kids going outside more? What are the benefits for busy parents?

When kids get outdoors they tend to play and explore.  Even if they sit outside and complain about being bored, it's still healthy and okay for them to feel boredom.  The benefits for the kids are that they learn some skills around self regulation and social interaction, as well as get the added benefits I mentioned above (playing in the dirt, fresh air, and vitamin D).  

Some kids sleep much better after exhausting themselves by running around and playing outside--most parents love that side effect. 
13. How often do you think kids should be outdoors?
It depends on the child.  I think kids should be outdoors as much as they can or need to be.  The general rule in our house has been that at least an hour a day outside (on average) is mandatory.   

14. For those who have youth or children who are seeking a counselor to talk to about something going on for them, why do you think it's helpful for the counselor to incorporate play and nature into the work with children? How does it help kids with therapy?
I see nature based activity as leveling the playing field in counseling with youth, regardless of the child's age.  We all share the outdoors-- so as a counselor, if I can show a child or teenager that there are natural resources and/or spaces they can use to help them cope with their life challenges, then that's a resource they can access during their entire life.  For example, if a child learns that getting outside for a brisk walk helps to manage their anxiety, depression or other uncomfortable feelings, then they have learned an important skill that is free and most likely accessible to them their entire life. 

15. What are 5 words you think your children would use to describe you as a mother?
Kind, generous, creative, unique, hard working. 

16. What was your goal in writing this book?
To remind parents and professionals how important it is to get our kids outdoors and in nature and to provide plenty of ideas of ways to help them do so. 

17. What are 3 of your favorite things to do in the summer in Maine?
1. Labyrinth lightings-- We have a simple labyrinth in our backyard that is bordered with paving stones.  Each summer we have one or more "labyrinth lightings" where friends come over to decorate the stones with chalk, flowers and candles.  The stones can be decorated in memory of someone or a pet that has passed away ; they can write wishes on the stones;  they can decorate a stone to send positive thoughts and love to someone far away or someone who needs it; or they can decorate a stone just for fun-- then we light a candle on each of the stones.   It's really magical and beautiful.   
2. Explore the Maine coastline
3. Go camping on Hermit Island
18. Anything else you'd like to share?
Not everyone has the same accessibility to outdoor spaces, parks, a back yard, or a place to garden so I understand that I am writing and presenting information from an idealistic standpoint.  However, in my book I try to address this issue more specifically by writing about how to bring the outdoors inside and/or how to make use of blacktop spaces for play.

To purchase the book:

1 comment:

  1. I'm Bonnie's mom and am so happy to have read this interview which so beautifully describes her gifts, skills and magical personality. I have been blessed to share in many of the memory making activities and continue to be amazed at all she embodies as a mother, daughter and gifted human being.