Ever since I was a small child, I was aware of the profound healing power of nature. Our annual bluebell walks were a family tradition and the experience could only be described as spiritual. When I became a mother myself, I treasured the time I spent outside with my daughter; whether we were planting seeds, collecting leaves, chasing the wind or rolling down hills, we also seemed to learn a lot from these experiences. Not just about the natural world, but also about ourselves and the world we live in. Here are some of the key lessons that children can learn through nature:
Learning respect for all living things
The natural world is the perfect place to learn respect for all living things. In a safe natural environment, children are free to explore but they also need to be aware of when to stay calm and quiet, so as not to upset animals. They start thinking about when to shut gates to keep animals safe, which plants can be eaten and which should be avoided. They learn to leave wildflowers for others to enjoy, despite the urge to pick each joyful bloom. This respect can translate beautifully to other areas of life.
Learning to question
The great outdoors is the perfect place to build a sense of wonder and to indulge a child’s inquisitive nature. Which animals sleep standing up? Which tree will lose its leaves first in the autumn? Do chickens lay eggs standing up or sitting down? Encourage your children to ask questions. You won’t have all the answers, but you can find them together by exploring and investigating or through research.
Learning to tap into your inner peace
When you immerse yourself in nature, it is hard not to feel an immense sense of serenity. The natural world is so peaceful and calm, whether you explore a beach or a forest; you can’t help but take some of that tranquillity on board. Getting plenty of time to be at one with nature is so important for children, as we are all part of nature and a sense of connectedness and oneness is vital for growth. Nowadays, life is becoming more and more stressful for children with a faster pace of life and exam stress starting even younger. By guiding our children to find instinctive ways to access their inner reserves of calmness, we can help them to stay mentally healthy for the rest of their lives.
Learning to value your own uniqueness
The wonder of nature comes from the diversity and the infinite variety of species. Nature is the perfect place to teach children that a woodland wouldn’t be quite as enticing if all the trees were identical, a field of wildflowers would lose some beauty if all the flowers were the same species and an ocean of fish is made all the more magical because of the variety of life that exists in the murky depths. Celebrating our individuality is a wonderful thing to do, and the natural world is the perfect example of the beauty of diversity.
We are all victims of a fast-paced disposable society. It’s not always easy to stop, slow down and appreciate that most of the best things in life take patience to achieve. Many children are in too much of a rush to grow up. An appreciation for how nature cannot be rushed, how seedlings start off fragile and tiny, how the winter months show little signs of growth or colour but lay the groundwork for the most colourful time of the year. All of these sides of nature help us to develop a sense of patience and learn to value the important of taking our time.
Top tips for learning in nature:
Leave your phone at home
We are all so used to being plugged in all the time, that it can feel quite liberating to leave your devices at home. To really immerse yourself in nature you need to limit other distractions. Take a camera to record magical discoveries, but make sure you are otherwise unreachable. (Of course, it is wise to tell people where you are if you decide to venture too far off the beaten track).
Take water, high energy snacks (such as dried fruits and nuts) and waterproofs. Ensure that everyone has sturdy footwear and thick socks too. You might also like to take a bag or box to store any interesting finds, a notebook and pencils and a small reference book on wildflowers or trees.
Keep an open mind
Enjoy the experience! Although it can be helpful to plan a route in advance, don’t feel like you have to structure the session. The learning should feel spontaneous, and child-led. Be guided by what fascinates your little ones and let them lead the adventure.
Use the time to learn about each other as well as the world around you
Slow, ambling walks are the perfect time to chat about things. Your everyday life can feel far away when you are surrounded by nature. Take the time to tell stories, sing songs and chat about precious memories. Leave any talk of homework, chores, worries or commitments at home.
Keep the adventure growing even after you leave
The experience can still be valuable, long after you have returned home. You might like to collect a pile of leaves from your adventure, then spend the afternoon painting them or fashioning them into a wreath. You might like to dedicate a corner of the house to celebrating the season; displaying bulbs, leaves, paintings and poems that remind you of the natural world. You may use your natural visit to inspire that night’s bedtime story, by spinning a tale of an animal who may have lived there or even retelling the story of the day.
The majority of children are more in touch with the natural world than us adults. For them, it feels instinctive and right to explore the natural world, and they find wonder in things that many adults take for granted. You may find that your children teach you more about the world around us than you teach them purely because they are better at living in the moment. Encouraging children to celebrate nature and relish its calmness and serenity will mean that they are able to rely on the healing power of nature throughout their lives and hopefully will go on to teach their own children through nature too.
Freelance writer, author and poet