3 Things You Need to Know to Deepen the Connection between Nature & Young Children: Sensory Health

PLAY!Creative Commons License Vinoth Chandar via Compfight

By Mary Rothschild Director of Healthy Media Choices

In Last Child in the Woods, his seminal work on children and nature, Richard Louv quotes Paul Gorman, Founding Executive Director of the Religious Partnership for the Environment:

Kids have to feel that this connection (with nature) is vital and deep in their parents. They see through us all the time…As the connection becomes more vivid to us, our commitment to it becomes more authentic, and children respond to that authenticity.”

I couldn’t agree more, though I would include all the adults who are responsible for the child. What does that mean, though, for the parent who works outside the home and feels there is little flexibility and time for immersing into nature? While it is ideal to have time to sink down, relax into an uninterrupted natural environment, as Katrina Onstad points out in her perceptive article in the Daily Globe and Mail, it isn’t a matter of signing Jane or Johnny up for camp (though that may be beneficial, too).

Whether you’re a parent or teacher (or both), here are what I consider key elements in the development of sensory health in early childhood.

1. Be authentic in developing your own relationship with nature. It is my experience that the attitude of the adult signals the importance of nature for the child. Attention is key. Attending to this relationship by looking for opportunities that are already available: i.e., to and from school and activities, whenever there are available to choose to take a detour, a path through nature or to notice the nature that is always around us. After all, the sun/ sky/air are with us wherever we are. We often just do not notice. Something as simple as noticing the difference when getting out of the car and into the weather can make a big impact on a child.

Most important: Find what is actually resonant for you and share it with the child. I love what is called the “blue hour” just before sundown. Simply stopping acknowledge it, to watch silently as the colors changes, was special for me and my daughters.

2. Recognize and support moments of connection that happen naturally for the child. Children have innate, intuitive connection; they sense directly that they are part of nature. It is important to allow for moments, giving them space without words. Once, on a bus in New York City, I was across from a little girl about 3 years old, who was standing on the seat, held by her mother. She said, without looking anyone: “I feel the sun on my head.” Wordlessly, her mother sat, still holding her, but a little closer as they were both still, as the mother and I made eye contact. It was a perfect example of silent affirmation.

3. Encourage the attunement of the child’s specific senses: Rituals like massage at home or “identify what’s in the bag” games at school can deepen touch. Hearing can be refined by games that include silent listening for different sounds in nature or music. Observing the differences in light enhances vision: electric, candle, the sky at different times of day. And, the experience of differences in various foods brings awareness of taste and smell. If we stop and notice.

The ability to be still and attuned through the senses is the foundation for sensory health, for connection with ourselves as part of nature, throughout life.

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