“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” Thomas Berry
How do children instinctively know that fresh air, dirt, the changing of the seasons, and the sunshine all play a vital role in every aspect of their health? Why is it that the moment we open our doors, they run with wild abandon happy to greet the new day and the fresh air? Our children are wise and to observe them in nature is quite incredible. Take the time to get your family outside and see what happens. I assure you, the benefits are magical.
Our magic was keenly observed the moment we enrolled our son in forest playgroup. The dirt that covered his face, the smile that stretched from ear – to – ear, the foraging, the unstructured play, were all greeted eagerly each week. That magic continued this summer as we elected to mix –up our traditional family vacation. Instead of taking a 10 – day holiday, we took long weekends throughout the month of July to explore different parts of the Alps. While we were away, we saw first hand the power of nature. Our children spent their days exploring, getting dirty, splashing in puddles and lakes and simply being children (we did often cringe at the things they would pick – up and the amount of dirt they could accumulate in a simple hour, but we are learning to let go).
We ate heartily, and we slept peacefully on those mini holidays. Our bodies rejoiced in the fresh air and I must admit, the noise and pace of the city always seemed to be a bit of a shock upon returning home to Basel. Something deep within me wanted to instantly return to the mountains, where the world was quiet, the wind could be heard and the sun would rise and fall each day right in front of our eyes. I couldn’t help but wonder if our children felt the same.
While we didn’t have methods to measure the happiness and health of our children while they played in the mountains, we witnessed their joy as they made new discoveries. We saw minutes dissipate into hours while we all played around the lake and we saw how at ease our children were among the trees, rivers, tall grass, and wildflowers.
After reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and a recent article entitled, “Raise a Nature Lover” by Leslie Garisto Pfaff from Parents Magazine, one thing is certain; regardless of our parenting philosophies, getting our children into nature will do a world of good for them and us for that matter.
One such benefit can assist with eye sight – apparently all of our screen time can slowly chip away out our eye sight, and by allowing children the opportunity to play in the natural world, we might be able to prevent them from developing near-sightedness. Being outside also allows children to play freely, and discover nature. There is a saying that children are never bored when they are outside and as Meri-Margaret Deoudes, Vice President of the National Wildlife Federation says, “There’s a limitless playground outside, and it doesn’t come with an instruction booklet, so kids have to use their imagination.”
Another recent article profiled by Outside Magazine entitled, “The Nature Cure,” by Florence Williams, describes how nature is becoming a new cure-all for our stress induced, technologically addictive world. Apparently, nature can: “lower blood pressure, fight off depression, beat back stress and even prevent cancer.” Sadly, we seem to be stepping further away from the natural world and so are our children. If the benefits of being immersed in nature are staggering for adults, just think of the benefits our children gain when they spend more time outside.
Stress relief, enhanced motor skills, independent play, physical well –being, natural sunlight, respect for the earth, and learning in a natural environment, are just a few of the benefits children gain from spending time outside.
If you are looking for ways to increase your outdoor time as a family, consider the following:
- Hold a play date in a local forest
- Take a day trip to one of the many theme trails in Switzerland (Muggestutz trail in Hasliberg)
- Teach your children to take photos of nature
- Have a scavenger hunt in a park
- Make trekking outside fun by inviting friends, hiding small toys to be found while on the trail, etc.
- Sign up for a forest playgroup
- Join the BCT for a Nature Detective walk
- Take a vacation in nature – beaches, forests, or the mountains are all great options for children
- Garden with your children
- Take your children to a local composting site
- Visit a botanical garden in full bloom
Nature is powerful and our children seem to be naturally drawn to the outside world. Nature can fill us with an abundance of physical, mental and social benefits. May we teach our children the love of the outdoors and watch them thrive.
To read more about the power of nature on both adults and children, please visit the following resources.
richardlouv.com – The blog portion of the website is quite powerful