Our society and our planet are witnessing the deleterious affects of what happens when children are disconnected from natural ways of living, playing and growing. Violence, mental illness, addiction, trauma and the myriad of emotional, behavioral and learning struggles that children suffer and witness, are a direct result of our human family’s disconnect from nature’s wisdom, nature’s intent and from nature itself. Rather than nature being the primary modality through which children learn and families connect, nature has been relegated to the status of being just “a nice thing to visit and observe when we have the time”. The fact that our technologically advanced, industrialized culture spends most of its time indoors, sedentary, at desks, on couches and in front of screens has only exacerbated the physical, emotional, behavioral, social, neurological and holistic health problems children and adults face.
The occasional short trip to a park or an occasional scenic vacation, replete with cell phones and gadgets, does not meet our need for connection with our natural environment. Likewise, a 10 minute school “recess” for younger children or the twice weekly outdoor gym class for adolescent children do not meet children’s needs for play, physical activity or connection to the holistically attuning power of nature.
With each new generation, children are missing out more and more on the adventures, the exhilarating encounters, the quiet pondering, the wonders, lessons and the raw, real life experiences of nature. For the Millenials especially, nature’s offerings are viewed as tedious or dull compared to the sedentary instant gratification of smart phone apps, online video gaming, TV and texting. For many parents and teachers of youth, nature is often viewed as dangerous, dirty, time consuming or something too far beyond their control.
Connecting with the balancing chaos and order of nature, feeling the vibrational force of ascending and clinging to the branches of large trees, navigating a thrilling and unexpected wrong turn through the forest, swimming in the powerful, chilling ocean, building hidden forts and camping out, running through a sun-drenched field, balancing the delicate intimacy of coming face-to-face with an insect or other creature, being faced with the lessons of life’s cycle of life and death, lying in the snow and listening to the sound of pure silence, or respecting the overwhelming pull of a raging river, are experiences that are disappearing from childhood. Yet, these are some of the very educational and holistically attuning natural experiences that literally help wire children for creativity, intelligence and physical, emotional, neurological, social and holistic health.
Nature intended children to live and learn with their entire bodies, including their arms, legs, hands and feet, their skin, their sensory and vestibular systems, their six senses, their instincts, their reflexes and their internal sense of homeostasis. Nature also intended for children to learn with their entire brains, including via emotion, intuition, sensation and cognition. A secure parent-child attachment and interest-led, nature-attuned play- with varied intensities of physical movement- fully develops children’s cognitive and creative abilities in the way nature intended. This is true whether children are in infancy or in their late teens.
The body and brain modalities through which learning occurs must be nurtured, respected and stimulated in order for children to optimally and fluidly attend to information and absorb, process, store, recall and apply it. Tragically however, the holistic learning modalities of the body and brain are stifled, denied and starved in traditional schools and when children spend hours in front of screens.
Children need to regularly connect and recalibrate with the natural environment, through its many habitats and living organisms, in a physical, multi-sensory, vibrational and tactile manner. Democratic schools and nature-focused outdoor schools are learning environments superior to traditional schools. However, attachment-focused natural homeschooling and unschooling are the most aligned with nature’s intent, as they are ideally based on passion, freedom to explore, children’s needs and intense play.