Labor Day marks the time families conclude their summer vacations and plan their back-to-school transition. Hopefully, you’ve taken the opportunity to change up your routine and recharge.

When arranging distant trips or staycations, people are instinctively drawn to the outdoors and nature. Whether travelling to exotic islands or simply heading down the shore, the beach entices even the most resolute workaholic. In addition, exploring natural lands like Iceland, Grand Canyon, or Maine, can also rejuvenate your soul. Interestingly, just planning a vacation without actually taking it correlates to higher levels of happiness.

Beaches, mountains, and forests invite us to breathe deeply and trigger a mindful awareness and humbling appreciation of our tiny place within the immense universe. This sensation is so compelling that scientists have researched it and found, not surprisingly, that immersion in nature is strongly correlated with improved physical and emotional wellness. Various studies corroborate lowered blood pressure, improved memory, and an increased sense of gratitude and happiness.

Which brings me to the point of this article. When switching from vacation to school mode, remember to incorporate nature into your daily life in order to continue realizing its vast array of health benefits. Engaging with nature is too important to be relegated to an occasional experience crammed into holiday breaks.

This is especially important for children. In his book Last Child in The Woods, Richard Louv notes the staggering divide between children and the outdoors and reports an epidemic of children displaying symptoms of Nature Deficit Disorder. Since the 2005 publishing, the problem has worsened.

This year one of the first epidemiological studies, spanning thousands of individuals across four European countries, associates less contact with the natural world in childhood with worsened mental health in adulthood.

The evidence is overwhelming and the solution is clear. Instead of chaining students to their Chromebooks and desks at school, and enabling social media and video game marathons at home, teachers and parents must make every effort to facilitate opportunities for children to get outdoors.

Fortunately, an active, growing community of green minded individuals throughout Hopewell Valley are working hard to connect children with nature. Local public and private schools are enhancing their outdoor learning areas. Teachers are incorporating open-air projects into curriculum. The momentum of greener education is encouraging.

Helen Corveleyn, FoHVOS Force of Nature and Department of Education’s Mercer County Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Benoit Cortet.)

In March 2019, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space named HES teacher Helen Corvelyn their “Force of Nature” claiming she was “the pied piper of scientific pursuits” by leading every child crossing her path to happily engage in her latest ecological project. In August 2019 the New Jersey Department of Education added critical acclaim by selecting Ms. Corveleyn as “Teacher of The Year” for Mercer County. Though recognized for individual efforts, her greatest strength is an ability to grow her sphere of influence by inspiring increasing numbers of students and expanding her reach with educators by generously sharing her programs for replication.

Similarly, Dr. Margo Andrews has pushed ecological boundaries both home and abroad by leading local experiential learning in addition to instructing Pennington School students abroad to study sustainability at Island School in Eleuthera.

Finally, FoHVOS Board Trustee Nicole Langdo founded Painted Oak Nature School to connect our youngest learners with nature, thus establishing the crucial foundation for a lifelong conservation ethic.

As summer gives way to work and school and the sunlight’s availability begins to shrink, it’s easy to forgo nature time. Standout teachers may help lead the charge, but we must all be vigilant in ensuring a vital connection with nature. Your family’s mind and body will thank you.

Lisa Wolff is executive director of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space. Email: lwolff@fohvos.org.