The Rock Pile Investigations
The Rock Pile Investigations

[Children’s] curiosity is to make connections, to realize the larger picture, to become able in the physical environment our lives depend on. Sarah Stein, Noah’s Children: Restoring the Ecology of Childhood.

There are many reasons why children need to be outside. The world outside, when it is familiar to children, expands their concept of home. It supports them to be at home in the world in a larger way. Kids need to be outside because it is a natural place to be. The outdoors is as much a part of their context as the indoors. It has fewer boundaries, is less confining and offers more to explore. In a sense, we were born outdoors.

Nature also gives children and teenagers a larger, often stronger, identity. It offers many opportunities to find out who you are away from the tv, the computer, and other technology and hopefully, opportunities to be free of adult supervision that is overly restricting. Rather they can learn to be someone within relationships to trees, birds, nests, ponds and sky. Many psychologists believe that this time in green spaces is essential to children’s mental and physical health.

Not all outdoor spaces are alike. The best have some biological diversity or large spaces to explore, away from heavy traffic. Ungroomed or “wild” areas have more to offer –they feed the imagination. You can support kids to explore who makes a home in that context or use their imaginations to create small world, huts, and games.

Studying a Flower
Studying a Flower courtesy JEK

The outdoors offers sensory richness and often asks for closer observation (for example, asking, “What are all the colours you can see in your stone?”) Children of all ages can learn to make finer discernments and develop a larger sense of the possibilities that exist in the world to be appreciated. Aesthetic sensibilities can be developed from forms of beauty that can only be found outside. We can point out how we enjoy the sight of light shining through dry grasses but also ask what they find beautiful – trying to expand and not limit their sense of the beautiful or the sublime.

It would also be a kindness if young people were encouraged to be outdoors when they are trying to overcome a hurt or solve a problem. I have found that some places have qualities that nurture my spirit –what might be called a spiritual presence. Encouraging children and teenagers to find their place where solitude and safety can offer them moments of being at peace can be as simple as telling your own stories of such experiences. My own attraction to being alone outdoors came both from the experiences my parents provided and from characters in favourite books describing a place outdoors they felt was meant for them. Perhaps suggesting they go for a walk by themselves might give your children or students back the sense that they can overcome or live with a problem in their lives. Supporting a child or teenager’s life in these ways may start with our own pleasure in being outdoors to explore or to be quiet, still, and content.

Are you at home in the natural world?

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