I find comfort in accomplishing tangible tasks. Because of this, I tend to put time in Nature in the category of recreation. Unless I’m gardening, being outside doesn’t usually provide an end product that I can see so I resist giving my time to it. But every time I do get outside, my mind is refreshed and I know that the time spent makes whatever I’m working on better. Here’s what I’ve learned about nature’s benefits:
1) Fresh air and new scenery refreshes the mind.
A walk around the block is a quick reset, but spending an hour or more on a hike is transformative. Yesterday, my kids and I drove into our local open space - Mt. Diablo State Park. The green fields, early blooming trees, and running streams were stunningly beautiful. As we drove higher up the mountain, the scenery changed to bare oaks and scrub bushes and we were surrounded by a cold fog. We hiked a steep trail for the last 2 miles to the summit, climbing over rocks and admiring the moss and lichen growing profusely on the trees. Getting my heart rate up and looking closely at the details along the trail, I was aware of using parts of my mind that had not been tapped of late. When I got home I was full of ideas and had a new perspective on my work.
2) It’s a great way to spend time with your teens.
Nature is the great equalizer. I live with 5 teens/young adults and finding an activity to do together is often a challenge. Food and media are the favored choices these days; family outings are more difficult to pull off. But going on a hike; being outdoors has been an easy sell lately. The more we go, the more memories we have together. When we have fun together outdoors, the more likely it is that my gang will be up for doing it again. It becomes a habit. Maintaining a strong family connection as our kids get older is a challenge. (I think our teens WANT to do things as a family, they are just pickier about how they are willing to spend their time.) Going on an outdoor adventure is a great solution.
3) Nature Instructs
Spending time in nature is a great way to build critical thinking in young children. Naturalist John Muir Laws teaches his students to ask questions as a way of observing in nature. They are, “I notice” - talking aloud about all the things you see (easy to do with a toddler or young child!), “I wonder…” and “It reminds me of…” You can read more about this process and other tips about Nature journaling in his book, The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling.
4) Nature instills a sense of place.
All too often I focus on my own house and yard, forgetting to spend time in the greater landscape around me. When we explore the place we live, we feel more grounded, more at home in our community. Visit your local state park’s visitor’s center for local guides to trails, plants, birds and history. One of my goals this year is to try as many trails in our local state park as possible, identifying the plants, trees and flowers that grow there and learning the history of the place names. I love the image of childhood that John Greenleaf Whittier paints in his poem, The Barefoot Boy. We memorized this over many weeks in our homeschool - it’s a favorite for sure! As a mom, I’m inspired by the idea that my children could possess as their own the beautiful natural world around them by knowing it well. Listen to a few of these lines: “Oh for boyhood’s painless play, Sleep that wakes in laughing day, Health that mocks the doctor’s rules, Knowledge never learned of schools, Of the wild bee’s morning chase, Of the wild-flower’s time and place, Flight of fowl and habitude Of the tenants of the wood; How the tortoise bears his shell, How the woodchuck digs his cell, And the ground-mole sinks his well; How the robin feeds her young, How the oriole’s nest is hung; Where the whitest lilies blow, Where the freshest berries grow, Where the ground-nut trails its vine, Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine; Of the black wasp’s cunning way, Mason of his walls of clay, And the architectural plans Of gray hornet artisans! For, eschewing books and tasks, Nature answers all he asks; Hand in hand with her he walks, Face to face with her he talks, Part and parcel of her joy,— Blessings on the barefoot boy!” I love that our children could feel the thrill of being masters and caretakers of their world, that they could look back on their childhood and think “ I was rich in flowers and trees, Humming-birds and honey-bees;…”
For more nature poems, grab my list of Favorite Poems.
5) Nature reminds us of God’s faithfulness.
I tend to worry about life. I feel the weight of responsibility to provide for myself and my children financially, physically, and emotionally. I easily slip into thinking that it’s all up to me. Observing the wonders of nature reminds me that even the smallest details are creatively and faithfully executed and repeated. The seasons change, the sun rises, the stars show up, the trees lose their leaves but new ones blossom, the flowers bloom, the grass greens and dries, birds sing, nest and have babies. It all repeats, creatively, faithfully, reliably. But we only witness these miracles if we are paying attention.
I love the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness. “Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”
Ways to get started:
A hike away from streets, houses, and noise is ideal but we can start with our children in small ways, sending them in to the yard with a magnifying glass, planting a garden, or filling a bird feeder with seed and watching to see who shows up. Have them collect things they find interesting then set out paper and colored pencils and let them sketch what they found. Pull out a field guide and try to identify flowers or trees or birds. As they get older, pick a hike that everyone can do and repeat it regularly. The photo at the top of this post and the one here is from our favorite hiking spot. My kids are big now, but we still think of this spot as one of our special places and like to go. We even took our family portrait up there one year.
Carole Joy Seid has inspiring advice that can help me know if we’ve been spending enough time in nature:
“If your kids aren’t dirty enough at the end of the day to need a bath, then they haven’t spend enough time outside.”
They don’t have to get THIS dirty, but if they do, it will be a fun memory!
How do YOU like to enjoy nature?