I was fortunate enough to be a child who could ride my bike, climb tees, and explore in the countryside. This nourished me and gave me a love of the outdoors, which I was able to weave into my life in different positive ways. It’s forever on my gratitude list and counts as one of the main things that helped feel good when I was outside.
Nature’s benefits for children, as well as for our brains and nervous systems, have been the subject of numerous books, articles and studies for well over a decade. Impassioned cries cite the rapidly decreasing exposure of children to nature. The most quoted resources are Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) and Theadore Roszak.
One of my favorite studies (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/how-walking-in-nature-prevents-depression/397172/) was one from Stanford in which 2 groups of students were instructed to walk to take a survey. One group walked through nature and the other group went along a well-traveled busy street. The nature group performed better in areas of happiness, attentiveness, and creativity. Other studies and reports cite benefits from nature in sensory information and processing ability, mental and spiritual health, health, reduced stress hormones, and resilience to trauma.
More recently, I’ve realized that the importance of connection with nature goes much further. It’s not just about appreciating beauty, exercising and feeling good. It’s about developing and sustaining a true relationship with nature.
As this relationship grows, nature and life deeply holds me, inspires me, and gives me wisdom. I experience myself as part of of life. I have more trust in myself and in life. I am humbled. I know nature and we humans are in a meaningful reciprocal relationship.
It’s like any other relationship. It takes clear intention and commitment to maintain and develop the relationship. There is honor and respect, giving and receiving.
A relationship to nature, can come easily to young children. With a bit of modeling, encouragement, opportunity and play near trees and plants, children can sense the care that plants may need, the magic of starlight, and the wisdom in a tree. In their openness, young children can even teach an adult who never developed a relationship with nature.
It’s therefore not only about being in nature…a trip to Yellowstone, or biking to a neighbor’s house, which in themselves is great….It’s also about the relationship, and what is experienced, learned, and developed in that relationship.
Richard Louve wrote, “How young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configuration and conditions of our cities, homes – our daily lives.” This is a sobering statement, that compels us to action.
What are easy, practical, fun ways to encourage a relationship with nature in ourselves and our children? Just to barely begin…
- The Children and Nature Network (childrenandnature.org) is a growing international movement. There are initiatives for families, youth, and teens. It reports that Rhode Island recently legislated a required 20 minutes of recess time a day for elementary students (K-6) as “instructional time”. Be an advocate for the same in New Mexico.
- Partner with other parents to brain-storm ideas and plan together regular adventures.
- Participate in local Community and neighborhood clean-up days.
- Create small, doable garden goals, and involve the kids. Learn how to do it together. Get or make a raised bed. Support Santa Fe Many Mothers, beautiful support for moms that gives raised beds to new mothers.
- Stay aware and active regarding equity issues surrounding parks and access to nature. Where we are born and raised, and where we are allowed to travel easily affects our habits and beliefs about nature.
- Walk barefoot through parks, sit on earth and rocks.
- Explore and be curious…figure out animal or bird tracks.. Get curious about the wisdom in a tree. Learn to identify bugs, birds, or wildflowers.
- Make a conscious decision to talk about a relationship with nature. Talk about the importance of care needed to sustain wild spaces and animals.
- Adopt a plant or two. Help the child learn to sense what the plant needs.
- Make rituals which honor nature, such as greeting the new day and the moon, asking permission to pick a flower, and thanking nature.
- Appreciate the elements and explore getting to know, and the power of each element.
- Make connections between our sustenance and nature. Visit farms, gardens, cows, etc.
- Respect the power of nature, but not fear it. Teach what not to feel or taste too..as respect and protection, not fear.
- Take time to be aware of all five senses in nature….smell, taste, feel, hear, see. For example, never having paid much attention to bird sounds, I was hiking and started talking to a “birder”. We became silent, and my world opened up to all the sounds of various birds I would have never heard otherwise.
It’s through nature that we realize that we all are part of the web of life. We may think we are separate, but we are not. We are all connected.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder
My visions then go to well cared for, respected and honored parks and wilderness areas, spaces that are kept sacred, recesses in natural spaces as an integral part of school and after-school programs, family networks connected to nature, accessibility of gardens and parks in city planning, sustainability and connection built into curriula and family conversations…..From there I see more relaxed, focused, aware and caring families, and positive choices in our future.