Forest Reading: The Benefits of Reading Outdoors.

By Wyatt Bandt

With summer’s arrival, many of us have plans to spend time outside whether that’s by the beach, playing sports, or going on a road trip. However, there is one thing that you may have not thought to add to your summer to-do list that requires zero planning: taking time to read outdoors. Despite the fact that spending time outside is ripe with serotonin and vitamin D, I’ve found that I love reading outside for totally different reasons. It has helped me read more enjoy reading and life more wholly, and here’s why.

First, when you go to a new place, it removes you from your everyday environment. In your home, you have habits associated with that space. For example, boredom or lapses in focus can result in us going to the fridge or reaching for our phones. However, if you set aside a particular place or environment for a particular activity, it is easier to concentrate because that’s what that place is for. So, just like the kitchen is for cooking, the park can be for reading! 

Another reason that reading outside is so free of distraction is because many of them aren’t available. Unless you intentionally bring other things to do, you likely won’t have access to a TV, laptop, or any of the other common distractions found in your home. And even if you do bring other things to do, you can take steps to stop yourself from getting distracted. When I read at the park, I put my phone in my backpack out of arm’s reach so I’m less tempted to reach for it. I do keep it on max volume so I can hear it ring in case someone needs to reach me, but otherwise, it’s easy to read because that’s the only thing I brought to do. 

I’ve also found that reading outside has helped me enjoy some of the smaller pleasures of life. Recently, I was reading The Phantom Tollbooth at a nearby park, and a character in it explained how—on the bizarre island of Conclusions—there was a beautiful town where people no longer stopped enjoy what the town had to offer because they were so busy rushing from place to place. Eventually, the town disappeared entirely, but everyone there was none the wiser because there were “in too much of a hurry.”

The Phantom Tollbooth is loaded with parables like these, and I found it especially applicable to reading outside. One of my favorite things about reading outdoors is how much is around you. A robin hopping through the grass several feet away, the rustling of the breeze through the trees, the scent of lilac. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries calls this act of spending time outdoors shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere.’ Many studies have shown that spending time in green areas is calming, but even if you aren’t able to go to a park or a forest, the intentional time you set aside will help you notice the things you might otherwise miss. 

So this summer, I encourage you to leave the distractions behind and take a book and try reading outdoors. You may be surprised with how productive your time is, and like with books, there’s a lot to see in the world around you if you just take the time to look.

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Article originally Published in the August / September 2021 Issue: Summer Reads.

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