The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.
– Marcel Proust
When I was a child, I spent endless hours outside playing in the woods and creeks and pastures surrounding our home. We were great adventurers – climbing trees and perching in our “look-out towers”, swinging across gullies on dangling vines, uncovering crawfish and capturing tadpoles as we waded through bubbling brooks, scaling and sliding down mini shale cliffs, whistling through blades of grass or acorn caps.
We spent untold hours outside in all kinds of weather – riding bikes all over the neighborhood; sledding down cow pasture hillsides and skating on frozen ponds; digging fox holes and building tree forts and catching fireflies at dusk; playing kickball in the vacant corner lot forever – or until mom stood on the front porch ringing the dinner bell, calling us home.
We slept out at night in the backyard tent watching the different shades of dark descend all around us until the stars came out one by one and the moon rose and cast its fluorescent glow, and we fell asleep to the sounds of the night chirping, hooting, creaking, and howling.
We endured sunburns and frostbite, skinned knees and bug bites. We learned self-reliance and teamwork while growing up in, with, and through nature. We did all this without the faintest idea that’s what we were doing. It just came, excuse me, naturally!
After spending many months of my childhood in and out of hospitals as a sickly child, I never took for granted the feeling of warm sunshine or cool breezes or gently falling snowflakes on my cheeks. To this day, I delight in breathing in the deliciously fresh air of God’s green earth all around me. I still love the unique smell of the seasons, and always cherish the first taste of the new season brought to us on the winds of change.
As I grew, I developed a life-long love for hiking and backpacking, canoeing and camping, skiing and skating. Whether alone or with family or friends – on the trail or the mountain or the lake, at a community park or a neighbor’s backyard barbeque or swinging softly on a front porch swing – I still love nothing more than taking in the precious gift of life that is all around us.
The transformative power of nature lies in this simple fact – it is all around us, always. If only we have the eyes to see it, and the ears to listen to it. If we can pause, get out of our heads, and literally come back to our senses, we can receive the restorative gift of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching nature’s beauty that is always here, now.
Modern science confirms what our common experience tells us. When our children live a sedentary lifestyle – too frequently indoors, sitting around, engrossed in electronic, virtual worlds, they suffer. Likewise, when our children are overscheduled and over-supervised and over-stimulated, they suffer. Their attention spans shrink, their sensory awareness dwindles, and toxic levels of stress build up in their nervous systems. They feel more fatigued, anxious, bored, and/or overwhelmed.
Getting outside and reconnecting to nature, in any way possible, provides a generous boost to our children’s minds and bodies. Studies show that time spent outdoors in nature (without heads in cell phones) can help reduce stress, depression, and attention deficits. It has been shown to boost children’s long-term physical, mental, and emotional health.
We know, instinctively, of the healing powers of a quiet walk in nature or an exhilarating outdoor adventure. Having these experiences is vital to our children’s well-being. And it doesn’t require huge amounts of time or space or equipment or money.
It just requires this: choosing to take time for what matters most. Choose to give yourself and your children the gift of fresh air daily. “Take time to smell the flowers” is a cliché for a reason. It has lasting, proven value.
As we enter into Spring, a time of renewal in nature, let’s not miss this opportunity for renewal for ourselves and our children. If we can’t spend all day playing outside as I did in my youth, so be it. You can find 15-minutes a day. You can find 1-2 hours a weekend. You can find 1 day a month. Get outside and do whatever you or your children like.
Nature is calling. Spring is in the air. Let’s answer the call!
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, loving husband and dad. He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time. Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.