For kids and grownups, savoring a daily dose of nature
It's said that in a forest of 100,000 trees, every tree is different. Yet in the natural world, the trees belong, as do the rocks, plants, raccoons, birds, and insects. We dont say, "this tree should look more like that tree or this rock should be here and that rock shouldnt." Everything has its place in the natural world, and of course the same is true for us.
However, a sense of belonging in our culture
is scarce. In our schools, kids all want to be the same - to "fit in." Friendships and school dynamics fluctuate, which creates restless energy for kids.
This doesn't end in childhood. In our culture, we all seek acceptance. But, just like the trees, none of us belong more than anyone else; in fact, we all make up the whole.
Being in nature is therapeutic on so many levels. Whether I was working with kids in wilderness therapy, or playing outside with my daughters, I notice profoundly positive impacts from spending time in the natural world.
First, we dont project ideas onto nature. (Well maybe sometimes - like it shouldn't snow in April as it has been here in Vermont.) Generally, when we step outside, we step into the present moment.
In our indoor environments, we attach labels, judgements and assessments about what "should" be happening and what's right or wrong. But outdoors, there's typically a letting go and a sense of acceptance. For example, while we may wish it was warmer or colder, we know and accept that we cant actually change the temperature.
My kids and I practice what I call "savoring"noticing special moments in the midst of rushing around through our day. My daughter took her new Nordic skis into the yard after a fresh snowfall and said, "Thanks so much for getting these - it's so calm and peaceful outside." I looked up and noticed that dusk was settling in and saw that she was savoring it. My younger daughter built an igloo and hummed a tune to herself. These moments seem to last longer, like time is being stretched.
In schools in Finland, kids go outside for 15 minutes every hour.
This sounds dramatic compared to most schools in the US that only go outside for 15-30 minutes per day. Perhaps not surprisingly, Finnish kids arent on as many meds as American kids. They get their energy out and return to the class ready to learn with fresh blood and an energized brain.
Being in Nature also allows us to notice change and impermanence. Right now in Vermont it's the end of mud season. There's still snow in the mountains. Each day is different. While the mud is an unpleasant hassle, it's also a direct reminder of the seasons and the movement of time. Life is fluid and not static.
A sense of belonging and acceptance, learning to let go, savoring, being present, a fresh mind, awareness of impermanence - these all have a huge impact on our mental health. (Never mind our physical health.) This is why it's so critical for kids to get outside everyday.
Kids need a daily dose of nature. It's free and available to most kids. They will return indoors refreshed - even during mud season in Vermont.
Krissy Pozatek, LCSW, is an Author, Therapist and Parent Coach. After a decade as a wilderness therapist, Krissy has identified the concepts and skills kids gain in the wilderness and integrated them into everyday parenting so kids can be more adaptable and resilient. She is the author of Brave Parenting: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Raising Emotionally Resilient Children (Wisdom Pub) and The Parallel Process: Growing Alongside Your Adolescent or Young Adult Child in Treatment (Lantern Books).
Visit her website at Parallel-process.com and follow her on Twitter.