One of our commitments as a family has been to spend time in nature. During the cold months it has saved our sanity and as spring begins to unfold we are filled with excitement and expectation. There is nothing like the inebriating scent of soil after the snow has given the stage back to rain.
This past weekend we were gifted with one of those scarce, early warm days when Young Spring has won one of the first battles against Old Winter. Ecstatic about the 55 degree weather we spent every minute we could outdoors. We are lucky to have the Arnold Arboretum around the corner from our city apartment. As we walked through the familiar gates, I found the adults in the group holding on to their city walk, an I-need-to-get-somewhere-quickly sort of walk, while the girls were stopping from puddle to puddle, looking for sticks to poke around in a I-have-no-where-to-be-but-here kind of non-walk. It was lovely to see the dance, between the adults needing to pull forward and the children digging their heels in the mud (literally) and saving us from our own insanity.
Time is what childhood brings back as a gift to rushing adults, especially if we are wise enough to offer the right space: Nature.
Yet the gifts Nature brings to children outweigh most gifts we, the adults, may offer children.
Presence: In Nature children can be in the moment, connecting with themselves, their bodies and the environment, exercising mindfulness, improving attention capacities and promoting wellbeing and mental health.
Intellect: Time in Nature promotes abstract thinking. Children have access to understanding concepts in concrete natural environments that translate into abstract and symbolic thinking. (Concepts of distance and measurements, reading maps…) Nature also promotes problem solving skills, through the immensity of possibilities presented while working with the physical environment: comparing and contrasting sticks long enough to reach a destination or rocks to throw into a pond, collaborating with others to build a structure or carry a heavy log, calculating the distance and effort needed to reach the next step while climbing a tree.
Freedom: When children spend time in Nature with no or limited adult supervision they have to make decisions, take responsibility for their decisions, individually or as a group.
Creativity: If we are fortunate enough to observe children play in Nature we will hear endless stories. A log will become a bus or a pirate boat. The will transform the world around them endlessly through thought or action, constructing and reconstructing what they now, while exploring reality and fantasy.
Spending time in nature can begin with our own back doors. Bring your children outdoors as often as possible and if you can, let go of their hand, they will thank you.
Some books to get you started:
Links to get you outdoors: