down to earth - the importance of a connection with nature
In times where anxiety and climate fear are on the rise, its never been more important for kids to foster a connection with nature
I have very fond memories of my childhood. From running wild in forests, long, lazy days at the beach, collecting up kindling to light our campfires, camping under a sea of stars, watching the sunrise over Uluru… It was a carefree existence; full of fun, adventure, and appreciation for our huge, earthy home.
But with busier, more scheduled lives, a constant stream of widespread news about war, deadly natural disasters and the climate crisis, not to mention the constant bombardment of technology, it's easy to see that childhood has shifted a lot. Again and again, studies are proving that today's children are suffering from far worse anxiety, stress and fear than ever before. A 2015 report from the Australian Department of Health even found that "One in seven young people are experiencing mental health conditions” – a figure that is continuing to peak.
However, a clear solution remains; building a connection with nature.
There are many positive correlations between nature and the health and wellbeing of children. Recent studies from The Child Mind Institute recognise the way that nature “increases children’s confidence, creativity and responsibility while reducing stress and fatigue” – all things that will significantly benefit your child’s quality of life. Nature play is also very beneficial in the physical development of younger children, providing different stimulation and activating more of their senses as they see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments.
Not only does a natural connection with the environment provide many physical and mental health benefits, but it can also be a vital facet in protecting and preserving our planet for future generations. As an outdoor educator, I'd go so far as to say it could even save the world.
We protect what we love. And when we love Earth, protecting it becomes a bigger priority. These kids are the ones who will be dealing with all of the damage we’ve caused, so it’s important that they too are passionate about advocating for it.
Through all kinds of outdoor ed programs, I'm constantly witnessing “ecological conversions”, watching kids experience those moments of clarity, pure joy and deep understanding, finding their place in this wild world.
It’s very beautiful to help facilitate that kind of connection, watching those moments that will influence their entire life. From feeling the sand between their toes for the first time to catching their first wave on a surfboard, the energy of the ocean and wind stirring them on.
It’s these moments of pure, raw natural experiences that I believe will create a generation of changemakers – passionate, caring, confident, happy humans with their priorities shifted rightly into place.
Even just having that chance to step aside from the stress of everyday life and the pressure that technology brings, can be really rejuvenating for the kids.
Developing a deep and fulfilling connection to nature is something that I firmly believes every child is capable of. It's human nature to want to explore, and as kids, this is such a foundational time for them to have those opportunities to get a bit wild and try new things. Parents and guardians must be facilitating this; giving kids the chance to be kids out in nature.
I've has rounded up a selection of the best experiences that are sure to draw you and your children closer to earth, no matter where your relationship is at.
The best thing? Unlike watching reruns of Bluey for the hundredth time, these experiences with your kids are something that’ll also help develop your own personal connection with the world, whilst building important family bonds. Nature has something for everyone. We’re never too old nor too wise to benefit from the lessons of Earth.
So kick off your shoes, get off the couch, put the phone aside, and strap yourselves in for some beautiful moments of pure, natural connection.
· Soak up the rain
Whether it be swimming in the ocean as the rain pelts down or simply dancing through the backyard, there’s something very magical about being outside and totally embracing the rain. Growing up in the dry city of Adelaide, rain was always very rare, so hearing that 'pitter patter' would always elicit feelings of excitement and energy.
· Explore the underwater world
Grab a snorkel and mask, and prepare to be amazed by the incredible, vibrant underwater world of the ocean. Let your worries wash away, allowing curiosity to take control as you explore deep seas, make friends with the fish and fall into the ocean’s deep and beautiful liquid embrace.
· Go for a night hike
Night hikes provide the ultimate canvas for magical moments of connection. From dancing under the spell of the moon to spending hours gazing at the seemingly endless sea of sparkling stars, nighttime offers a truly mystical perspective of the world.
· Watch the sunrise
Get up before the rest of the world, and watch the incredible miracle that is life transitioning from night to day. Notice the awakening of the world around you; birds, trees, wildlife, and feel grateful for the new beginning that every sunrise offers. Open your heart and allow the peace of the sun to come into you, fuelling you with positive, radiant energy for the day. Trust me, it's always, always worth getting up early for!
· Forage for fruit
This is a foolproof way of growing a better appreciation for food in your young ones, whilst sustaining your body with natural, wholesome goodness. Growing up in the Adelaide hills, some of my fondest memories were of gorging myself on blackberries or the excitement of discovering a nearby fig tree.
· Ditch the shoes
Going barefoot is one of the best ways to figuratively and literally ground yourself. It offers unique freedom, gives peace and security, and helps detach from materialism. Allow a barefoot stroll to be a reminder to you of where you are in the world; helping you live life more mindfully.
· Light a fire
Campfires are such a beautiful way to slow down, share stories and connect to the natural element that humanity has relied on for millions of years. Be mesmerized by the tireless dancing flames, absorb the heat deep into your soul and feel as the moment both invigorates and calms at the same time.
“All too often the busyness of life gets in the way, but it is important to be setting aside these times to really connect; with the people around you and the world we call home”