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Mother Nature’s Buffer Against Adverse Childhood Experiences


Earth Day has blossomed into a month-long celebration in April focusing on getting outdoors, appreciating nature and coming together as a community all of which are important in our work as ACEs Aware grantees.

Recently, “spending time in nature” was added to the list of ways to practice self-care in relation to Adverse Childhood Experiences. The idea behind the self-care practices is to regulate an overactive stress response which can be heightened due to exposure to ACEs and lead to toxic stress. Additionally, the “4 Building Blocks of HOPE,” which centers around key Positive Childhood Experiences, requires a community environment for kids to play and interact with other children safely and equitably. These are ways in which we can buffer against the negative, lifelong health effects caused by ACEs.

The more we can do to mitigate toxic stress and promote positive experiences for children, the greater chance we have of offsetting ACEs and allow healing to begin.

As a community, how can we get children to spend time in nature and provide local environments for kids to play and interact safely?

  1. Create more green spaces and healthy outdoor environments

We can participate in a clean-up project. All month long, local organizations host beach, park and river beautification projects such as the annual Creek to Bay Cleanup in San Diego. However, it’s easy to take a moment to pick up trash at a local playground, beach or park on your next visit.

  1. Donate to a local community garden

Supporting community gardens directly impacts our local environment. Creating more green spaces decreases the city’s temperature and gives the community immediate access to fruits and vegetables. For a list of community gardens in San Diego visit:

  1. Get Social. Be Active

Spread awareness in your community by sharing your Earth Day practices and using the hashtag #EarthDayChallenge. Get involved with local government to promote sustainability ad lobby for environmental practices.

If you’re looking for some activities, the County of San Diego Parks & Recreation department planned some free outdoor events for Earth Day. Find out more HERE.

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That time in nature would impact some of the risks associated with ACEs is intuitive and has been experienced and observed. As part of a project that took child homicide survivors on river and camping trips, I witnessed the potential healing power of being together in nature. We added very minimal programming to help kids attend to the sensory and regulating effects of being outdoors and on the river. Can anyone point me to some of the research that supports this? I know of only a couple studies that sought to demonstrate the impact of nature on physiological indicators of stress.

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