CHOOSE NATURE, TOGETHER: And Know When to Press Pause

About the Author

Heather Kuhlken incorporated her experience as a teacher and biologist and her passion for nature to found Austin Families in Nature in 2008. Since then, Kuhlken has guided AFiN’s growth into a 501c3 non-profit (Families in Nature). Kuhlken leads nature-rich travel experiences for families in the US and abroad. She also works as a nature photographer, designs natural playscapes, serves on the leadership team for the Children and Nature Collaborative of Austin and volunteers for the Children & Nature Network.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum

Ask almost anyone how they’ve been and they’ll immediately say, “I’ve been really busy.” Ours is a culture of “being busy.” Some people blame smart phones. They allow us to be connected anywhere, while working, while taking our kids to the park, sitting in a carpool line, waiting at the doctor’s office, or at soccer practice. Some experts suggest that the culture of being busy stems from competitive parenting, from pressure to get our kids into good colleges. And, for kids and adults, there are simply so many interesting and important things to choose from. We end up choosing too many of those good things.

As a result, we race around, constantly feeling late and over-stretched. Our kids miss out on the downtime necessary to look for bugs in the backyard, or play with neighborhood kids, to daydream. Especially if we have multiple kids, we find ourselves having to “divide and conquer” often, with one parent driving one child to dance class while the other drives to soccer, and a neighbor drives the third child to swimming. Siblings rarely do anything together. Everyone in the family is going in different directions all week long, and there is rarely time to just be with each other. 

And as my own children got older, our family became exponentially busier and was constantly running in different directions. I saw our friends and neighbors doing the same thing.

This realization was one of my inspirations to create our family nature club, Austin Families in Nature, in 2008.

My family needed scheduled time to just be a whole family, a time when we could all be together without the distractions of screens, phone calls, laundry, work, school, homework, and all of the other things that pull at us all week long. We needed to create a specific times together and actively protect that time from the culture of being busy. Along with needing regular time together, we all also needed to get out into nature more often. A growing body of research suggests that time spent in nature reduces stress and increases health and happiness. And other families needed that, too.

Our own kids range from 5 to 14 years-old. Because of that range, it’s difficult to find activities that we can all do together. So I decided to create a way to do that, through nature. I wanted Families in Nature to be inclusive of all ages, and all kinds of parents and kids – young, old, boys, girls, teens, babies, everyone. Initially, my goal was to use my background as a science teacher to make this a learning experience. We do learn together. But over the past seven years, so much more has grown out of our family nature club.

Families have formed a sense of community; dads get to be dads together; boys get to see their moms and sisters hiking, camping and catching fish; sisters get to see their brothers creating art, parents get to see their kids paddling their own kayak or even teaching a lesson to younger kids. And families get to be with other families.

As parents, we have lots of opportunities to take one more class, go to one more soccer game, stay at work a little later, answer one more email, add one more instrument to our child’s musical repertoire, or check Facebook one more time. For parents and children, most of these activities have value. Some give kids strength, coordination, higher math scores, or keep them in touch with friends. But we rarely leave time for brains to unwind or time for our family to reconnect at the end of a busy week. Nature can help us do that. Memories of outdoor adventures will last a lifetime, for you and for your kids. Whether you have that adventure by creating or joining a family nature club, or by just going to the park closest to your house, make a choice to spend time together out in nature, reconnecting with each other in this increasingly busy, disconnected world. Choose nature, and choose each other.

Additional reading:

BACK TO THE SUMMIT: The Return and Rise of Family Nature Camps

THE GIFT OF NATURE SHARED: How We Launched Our Family Nature Club


TECHNOLOGY IS IN OUR NATURE: But to Flourish, We Still Need Our Wild Connection

SEVEN WAYS TO OPT OUTSIDE ALL YEAR LONG: By Shutting Down on Black Friday, Retailer REI Challenges the Rest of Us to Connect to Nature, Family and Friends

C&NN Resources:

Natural Families Forum

Nature Clubs for Families Toolkit


Perfect madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner

The Nature Principle by Richard Louv

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian

Other Resources:

Healing by Being Together in Nature

Because the Cult of Busy Might Be Killing You

How To Escape the “Cult” of Busy

Busy? Stressed? Do stop boasting about it. You’re not the only one


1 Comment

  1. One way we’ve enjoyed exploring nature together is by volunteering in nature- cleaning the beach, habitat restoration, planting trees… As our children learn to love and understand nature through volunteering they also learn skills and habits to be stewards of the places they’ve made these family memories.


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