I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bringing nature therapy to communities that perhaps are underserved in this area, yet are among those that would benefit the most. It came up in one of my Forest Bathing groups and I’ve been plotting ever since.
I think I’ve made it clear that being out in nature is good for everyone. I’ve experienced her healing properties first hand, and I think everyone should have that opportunity.
One of my favorite times Forest Bathing was with a group of second graders in rural Guatemala (see Forest Bathing, Guatemala-Style). This is a practice that is especially well-suited to kids, who are curious and adventurous and creative. Yet many young people spend too much time indoors, or don’t have easy access to nature. When we include them in outdoor mindfulness practices such as Forest Bathing, we give them tools that they can use in navigating life’s challenges.
My first intentional journey into bringing nature therapy to children is coming up soon as I bring forth my first “AutoCamp Yosemite Forest School.” This activity is through AutoCamp Yosemite a luxury-style campground not too far from me. They offer their guests outdoor experiences of all types including my Forest Bathing experience. I’m a little nervous about how it will go and if I can keep five year olds engaged for the two hour experience, and I’m also excited about where this might lead.
Of course, I’ve been combing articles about the best ways to help get kids excited about nature, to fall in love with it and to get them ready for their role as stewards and protectors of the Earth.
I have a program plans ready and we’ll see how it goes. I always keep the plans malleable, never sticking to script, so I’m ready to adjust as needed. In making these plans, it occurred to me that my goal in any of my mindfulness activities is for participants to integrate the practices into their everyday life. So here are a few suggestions you might try with the littles in your life:
Start close to home
No matter if you live in the city or the countryside, there is sure to be plenty of nature to appreciate at your doorstep. Start by showing your children the wonders that exist close to home, demonstrating that the beauty of nature can be anywhere. If you have a garden, a window box, or a small patch of land, you can also teach your children how to take care of it properly. Starting small helps them build the skills they need in a larger garden or setting.
Take the deep dive
When you’re out in nature, on a bike ride, or a walk, or camping, for example, take time to connect them to nature on a deeper level. Help them to use all their senses. How many different kinds or birds to you hear? Can you smell the dirt? What does the air taste like? Do you feel the breeze on your cheek? How many different colors of green do you see?
Appreciate the seasons
Following the seasons is another great way to help kids fall in love with nature. Encourage them to start a picture journal and record the differences they see in the world around them as the seasons change. Each new season offers its own unique beauty. Help them to see the wonder all around them.
Let them get messy
One of the best ways to help young kids fall in love with nature is to allow them to get messy when they are exploring. Nature is messy, and getting used to dirt and mud is all part of exploring the natural world.
A couple of the activities I have planned are an outdoor scavenger hunt and nature art. This helps them to notice the tiny things in nature they might pass by otherwise. Nature craft ideas abound on Pinterest. Use it as an opportunity to teach them respect for nature – take only what you need and only what has already fallen to the ground, leave no trace, honor what nature gives us.
Get Out And About
As the old adage goes, there is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing. Make sure you have the appropriate gear: boots, coats, gloves, sunhats and everything else to protect and prepare for any weather. Experiencing nature in all its forms is part of the fun – don’t stay cooped up because of a little rain!
Kids are just one underserved group when it comes to nature therapy. I’m also exploring what benefits it might bring to other groups. A few that come to mind include those with dementia, people who are neurodivergent (autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, etc.), recovering addicts and those that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I have no idea where this will lead, and I will be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, go be in nature and take your kids with you.