27 Ways to Get Closer to Nature

Remember when mom shooed you out the door to play? Turns out that she was onto something: Research shows that spending time in nature can benefit your health. “People who live near parks or any kind of natural setting have reduced anxiety, less depression and greater well-being,” says Emma Seppala, Ph.D., a psychologist at Stanford University.

So what are you waiting for? Get your family into the great outdoors with these smart ideas:

1. Park it. Stroll through the park, your backyard or a nature preserve. Going by foot forces you to slow down and observe more.

2. Hut, hut, hike! Plan a longer outing on a nature trail. Hiking is great exercise, especially if the terrain is uneven. (You’ll strengthen your core.)

3. Drop a line. A fishing line, that is. Sitting quietly by a stream or pond will give you the opportunity to hear nature’s sounds.

4. Night fever. Camping out, even if it’s just in the backyard, brings you closer to crickets, frogs, owls and more.

5. Tweet! Turn off Twitter and head out for a glimpse of some actual feathered friends. (It’s even more fun with a pair of binoculars.)

6. Plant it. Whether in the yard or a windowsill container, anyone can grow an herb garden. Think: mint, basil, parsley and thyme.

7. Dirt candy. Handle the soil while digging up your own veggies. Make it easier by joining a CSA (community-sponsored agriculture) that offers visits to a farm. To find one near you, visit LocalHarvest.org.

8. Pretty posies. Grab a bunch of tulips or carnations at the market. A bright bunch of flowers on the table will lift your mood instantly.

9. Start a collection. Pinecones come in all shapes and sizes, so pick a few up on your next nature walk. In a glass bowl, they make a fab centerpiece.

10. You Pick. Go to PickYourOwn.org to learn which fruits are in season. Then head out while the pickings are good!

11. Bright lights. Turn off the television and take your family stargazing. Lie on a blanket and check out shooting stars, constellations and The Big Dipper.

12. Sun fun. Whether the sun’s coming up or setting, you’ve got two chances a day to marvel at the colors and power of the sun.

13. Eat out. Picnicking in your yard or a nearby park brings you close to the cool grass, soft breezes -- even the ants!

14. Beach comb. Shells, driftwood, feathers and more are found near many bodies of water. Collect these as you splash around.

15. Sniff! Sure, it sounds corny, but stopping to smell the flowers is very relaxing. Look for rose hips, lavender and other wildflowers.

16. Go on tour. Botanical gardens, neighborhood parks and local greenhouses often have special events when blooms are peaking.

17. Press on. Flowers and leaves are made even lovelier when sandwiched inside a heavy book between layers of wax paper.

18. Art smarts. Grab a pencil and paper and try your hand at sketching. Trees, a field, bushes and flowers beds will come alive in your picture.

19. Bug-tastic! Observing the tiniest creatures can be fascinating. Your kids can squat down and study a beetle, ladybug or spider to see how it moves.

20. Feel trees. Get right up close and touch the bark of various trees. Birch, elm, maple and oak all have different textures to explore.

21. The big squeeze. Got lemons or limes? Making fresh juice is healthy and fun. Add water and sugar to tart fruits.

22. Cook out. For a fun spin on dinner, build an open fire outside to cook dinner: Roast hot dogs and marshmallows for s’mores.

23. Fantasyland. Build a fairy house with the kids using sticks, moss, leaves and flowers. Add in tiny dolls and cars and make up stories for them to play out.

24. Screen time. Set your computer’s background or screen saver to the winter snow, a waterfall or a field of flowers. According to a University of Michigan study, simply looking at nature can provide stress relief.

25. Hit the books. Borrow nature-themed books from the library or buy a large-format one for your coffee table.

26. Ticket to ride. Hop on a bike and start pedaling! Riding in the park or along a river ups your heart rate while you spend time outside.

27. Bring nature indoors. To stay close to nature even when you can’t be outdoors, freshen up your home and car with an air freshener in one of the best scents of nature -- jasmine, lavender, rain or vanilla.