My blog theme and monthly challenge for this month is about being thankful for NATURE. In this post, guest blogger Avery Taylor highlights three important qualities nature can teach us. I’m grateful for all of these! Enjoy!
The seasons are finally in full transition, and the holidays are upon us. With family obligations, holiday parties, and a million things to get done, it can be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle. With the weather looking a little drearier, spare moments may seem better suited to curling up in an armchair with a cozy book for a quiet moment.
The drizzle is no reason to neglect outdoor adventures, though!
While fall and winter temperatures may not be conducive to the same antics as summer, there’s always an opportunity to bundle up and get moving outside. Even throwing on some rainboots and a jacket and going on a walk to notice the neighborhood has significant mental and physical benefits, as well as providing an unconventional classroom for learning with your kiddos.
Nature Can Teach: Mindfulness
While children may not experience the stress of an adult life, that doesn’t mean that they don’t stand to benefit from the practice of mindfulness. There’s evidence showing that children who participate in mindfulness activities, or take courses in mindfulness at school, are more focused, more compassionate, and have greater emotional regulation.
While sitting still and meditating are certainly tools for learning mindfulness, nature offers a more interactive classroom for introducing the idea. Sarah Beach emphasizes mindfulness with her children by asking them to “notice” things. By asking them to observe the world around them, they will become more tuned into what’s going on.
Walking in the woods, though mountains, or even in a park can offer a myriad of teaching opportunities to get your child more aware of themselves. Take disposable cameras, or share a digital camera or smart phone, and ask your children to take pictures of things they notice in the world around them.
Your children may not quite have the chops to be nature photography aficionados just yet, but chances are they’ll start tuning into things they might otherwise gloss over.
Nature Can Teach: Individuality
Looking through the photographs your kids have collected, one thing will be obvious: no two photos will look the same. Whether two people have photographed the same area, or the same person photographed the same area twice in succession, the images will differ.
We all notice different things about our environment. If you’ve worked on mindfulness in nature and the idea of capturing what was “noticed,” reviewing the photos can create opportunity for conversation about perspectives and differences.
A taller person may take photos from an angle radically different than their shorter counterpart. Someone who likes birds might emphasize a different part of the forest than someone who favors furry creatures.
These preferences shape our sense of the world and the things we observe, as our life experiences impact what we bring to the table in discussion and debate. Looking at different pictures of the same area is a visual inroad to having this discussion with children.
The concepts introduced can be carried to a number of different sensitive topics. You might find that you can address bullying, differences in lifestyles, listening to each other, or even political discussion, depending on the age of your kids.
Next time you’re walking in the forest (or wherever it is you choose to live in nature), you can ask your kids to share with each other or with you what they’re noticing and why. This allows for a no-pressure, easy application of the concepts the pictures brought up.
It also offers opportunities to show how even though you’re a family, you’re still different from each other, and that perspective benefits everyone. The world wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful if we all loved the same things, and people wouldn’t be as inspired to pursue unique careers or create art.
Nature Can Teach: Healthy Habits
Not only does the natural world around us stand to contribute to the mental health of your family, it’s physically good for them as well.
In Japan, and increasingly in the United States, the practice of “forest bathing” is becoming more popular. Touted for its mental and physical benefits, the practice blends mindfulness with an intention to be active in nature by encouraging practitioners to wander through forests and be aware of what’s around them. Participants grow in their appreciation of the natural world and often return refreshed and more at peace.
By instilling an appreciation for nature in your children, they will likely continue to seek out its solace throughout their lives. Even if it’s just to clear the mind, daily walks and regular exercise can have incredible health benefits.
Physically, walking has been linked to a lower risk of some cancers, lower blood sugar, and better cardiovascular and vein health. Mentally, being in nature preserves a sense of peace and elevates the mood. Couple that with the benefits of mindfulness, and it seems foolish to not go outside — no matter what the weather is doing.