by Wendy Gabriel
Dr. Marti Erickson retired in 2008 from the University of Minnesota, where she was founding Director of the University of Minnesota’s Children, Youth, & Family Consortium, co-chair of the President’s Initiative on Children, Youth and Families and adjunct professor in both Child Psychology and Family Social Science. Marti now works independently as a speaker and consultant and, with her daughter Erin Garner, co-hosts a weekly radio show, Good Enough Moms™, on Twin Cities’ FM 107.1. Marti also is a founding board member of the Children and Nature Network.
How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?I believe the best way to gain inspiration to be a good steward of the environment is to make time to be in nature, to enjoy and love it firsthand, and to reap its benefits for my physical and emotional health and well-being. Although I cherish the “big” experiences I have in nature — hiking the Grand Canyon or sailing the Pacific — I find that “small” experiences I can squeeze into my day-to-day life are extremely powerful. So I do what I can to spend time outdoors every day. Regardless of weather, I take walks outside. I carry a folding canvas chair in the trunk of my car and, when I have a few minutes between meetings, I take a quick “nature break,” finding a patch of green where I can sit outside and breathe deeply. Every chance I get, I take my young grandchildren (ages 5 months to 4 years) exploring outside, seeing nature in new ways through their curious eyes.
What is a ‘green hour?’The National Wildlife Federation — a significant partner in the Children and Nature Network — has rallied families to declare a “green hour,” a regularly scheduled time when all family members unplug and go outside. Go for a walk, dig in the garden, pick up trash in a nearby park, whatever makes you feel personally connected to the natural world.
Why do you think it’s so important for families to institute a ‘green hour?’With many children spending 45 hours a week in front of one kind of screen or another, I think trading some of that screen time for green time is one very important step to help our children be healthier, happier and even smarter. A growing body of research shows that time spent in nature is associated with better physical health, less stress and anxiety, and better concentration and performance on academic tasks (some of that research highlighting the particular benefits for children with ADHD). Studies also show that children who learn to love nature firsthand in the company of a caring adult are more likely to be good stewards of the environment when they are older. Beyond those benefits for children, I believe a family “green hour” is a wonderful way for parents and children to strengthen their relationships with each other, and close family relationships are a major protective factor against some of the negative forces that sometimes work against our children’s healthy development. And here’s the “green hour” bonus: getting outside is a great stress-buster for adults too — and what parent can’t use that?
Where is your favorite spot on earth?Any spot where it’s 75 degrees, sunny, and my grandchildren are romping in the grass, digging in the dirt, or splashing in the water nearby.
Read more in the Four Questions series:
Four Questions with Adam Shake
Four Questions with Dr. Alan Greene, part I
Four Questions with Dr. Alan Greene, part II
Four Questions with Dr. Alan Greene, part III
Four Questions with Lisa Mills Sutherland
Four Questions with Melissa Kushi