“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” ~Alan Watts
Children are aspects of nature. As are we. We somehow forget that human beings evolved WITH and AS the natural world. Being inside sealed dwellings, and donning clothing for anything other than warmth is rather a new concept. Being outdoors, and allowing oneself to get wet, cold, hot, hungry, soothed and swept away with wonder, to experience heavy, light, dark, breezy, rough, smooth, size, shape and color, is part of the natural process that requires very little of us in return. Learning and laughter go hand in hand as children are offered the great outdoors as their forever classroom, and at the same time, they stay in touch with and are able to explore what it fully means to be a human being in this wonderful world. It is simply natural for children to thrive outside. Outlined below are the four elements that the first peoples of this land called out as foundational, along with the four directions for guiding human development.
- Physics and Ear
- th Sciences beg for direct contact and self-directed lessons. Children build their understanding with the world by interacting with the world. (The brain needs sensorial experiences in order to grow, and learn, and build cognitive concepts. Examples of this include watching a bird’s habits in its natural habitat, charting the growth of plants, noticing the change of the seasons.)
- Dirt, contrary to popular belief, is essential for your child’s immune system and bacterial balance. More and more studies are showing that our optimum health depends on exposure to “good” bacteria. The natural microbes found in dirt have recently been shown to keep our sense of well-being and balance! Exposure to animals and gardening actually enhances a child’s natural immune response.
- The Green effect– The Japanese have a new word for immersing oneself in the outdoors. Shinrin-yoku, or “Forest Bathing” is known to have relaxing and healing powers that go beyond the physical. The scientifically proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku include*:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure.
- Reduced stress.
- Improved mood.
- Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD.
- Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness.
- Increased energy level.
- Improved sleep.
Just as impressive are the results that we experience as we make Shinrin-yoku part of our regular practice:
- Deeper and clearer intuition.
- Increased flow of energy.
- Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species.
- Increased flow of eros/life force.
- Deepening of friendships.
- Overall increase in sense of happiness.
- A wisdom dialogue occurs between children and the natural world – one in which the greatest teacher cannot emulate. Learning from nature can be the most powerful practice in developing one’s own creativity, critical thinking skills, and perspectives. Where adults can actually hinder students’ own fresh ideas and creations, nature can enhance them. The natural world, like no other mentor, can teach children that indeed, anything is possible.
AIR AND WIND
- Space– Expansion, volume, voice, contraction, movement, mastery of the body, social contexts- how do we fit in? The outdoors gives us room for child-like behavior and discovery.
- Flight– Many of our grandest ideas as a species came from the yearnings of noticing other kinds of beings in nature. As we refined our scientific method, we learned we could fly like birds; thus, the invention of airplanes, and eventually rocketships.
- Exposure to the “invisible”- How children begin to hold the paradoxical space for what exists, impacts us, or is impacted by us, is not always there for the naked eye to see. Wind is a prime example, as children make pin-wheels and kites or simply run with their hair streaming behind them.
- Autonomy- direct feedback– Without direct contact and our own experiences of natural consequences, we are missing big pieces to the puzzle of being human. Finding out how our choices lead to new choices or different challenges gives us a sense of control and empowerment. Indoors children are “over” supervised, with every experiment in potty language or slight risk being regulated and guided. This, unintentionally, robs children of some of the delicious sense of self-selected challenge and triumph!
- Drift time. The outdoors puts us in immediate rhythm with the seasons. It helps us honor our own biological inner-clocks that tell us when to rest, to focus, to eat, to move, and to just “be.” We quickly insist children learn the production clock that runs our modern lives. Unfortunately this tick-tock clock often begins to divide us from our own knowing of our own needs. Outdoors we are instantly reconnected to our part of the systems that roll effortlessly and with a sense of the expansiveness of time.
- Nature as model/finding our passion. Some of our best science and innovations have come from watching and experiencing the natural world with avid curiosity. Passionate outdoor learning keeps this spark alive.
- I’ve always been grateful that children didn’t have to be dry-cleaned- the bills would be astronomical! My experience with children is if you add water…everything gets better (and wetter). Of course, safety with water is paramount, and no child should ever be left unsupervised with anything over 2 inches of standing water. With that said, water is a part of us, and children can find a million ways to learn by adding water.
- Safe risk-taking and self-direction. All 4 Elements offer this, with water being but one avenue to intuit into an experience’s risks and benefits. Human interest is a powerful force and when children are allowed to follow that interest, there is no greater
- motivator. Lots of incidental learning happens through the relevance to the students’ goals and curiosity. The fluidity of interest and learning and following connection mimics that of water- a metaphor used in great religions and philosophies. Seeking one’s own level, noticing differing states of being, watching energy be released from potentialities are strong “waves” of experiences that serve the unfolding of future, deeper understandings of the self, relationships and the way our planet works.
There are so many activities to do outside, and every precious moment is a reminder of who we are, and how precious is our human existence. With expanded boundaries and interactions, children thrive and come alive- becoming the teachers of past generations of what a wonder of a world we live in. Weather-proof children and allow them to learn which clothing works best in what weather, and then…Send ‘em outside!
By January Handl