Why Do Nature Study?
I recently asked a group of my nature study kids a question, as we sat nestled in a redwood grove alongside a babbling creek. I asked them, “Why do we do nature study?” Each of them replied with fantastic answers such as, “Because nature is beautiful,” “Because nature is everything, it is amazing,” and “So that we can learn ways to save it.”
After acknowledging their replies, I quieted my voice and asked them, “Do you want to hear why I feel that nature study is important, and why I teach nature study?” And so began a beautiful conversation and experience that I would like to share with you.
Why do we do nature study? It is a wonderful and intimate feeling to have the knowledge to call our plant and animal friends by their true names, and to learn their secrets. But there is more to it than that. For myself, the heart of the reason that I teach my children and children from our community nature study is simple and yet profound.
Nature is one of the most immensely healing, clearing, calming, therapeutic resources in existence. Developing a bond with nature is a relationship that will serve a person throughout his entire life. In times of difficulty, or stress and overwhelm, there is no place that can completely calm the nervous system and rejuvenate the soul like nature. It has a power similar to meditation and prayer. In fact, many of the greatest people in history, from all religions, continents, and regions went to nature to contemplate, pray, or find peace in silence.
Children are naturally spiritual. Their hearts are open to the wonders of life and nature. Teaching them at a young age to notice the beauty, the details, the songs, and the sounds of nature opens them to looking at the world in a different way, a way that can carry them through the more trying times in life. Not only that, but it offers them a place to run to when they feel depleted or feel the need to be inspired. It is a resource for self regulating in a sense.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” – John Muir
After discussing this with the children, who were all beautifully receptive, I told them that we were going to do an exercise. I asked them to allow their eyes to rest somewhere (remember, we are sitting in a redwood grove next to a creek). I spoke gently to them, asking them to allow their eyes to rest on one place and to take deep breaths. Then I asked them to allow their mind to relax and their hearts to open and fall involve with the place their eyes were looking at. I guided them to look at the place with love and attention, to simply gaze at it, while breathing calmly and quietly. After about 5 minutes of this I asked them if anyone wanted to share anything. Everyone spoke in almost a whisper. My son said the felt like he could hear the song of the creek talking to him about nature. Another child said that she felt she could see the moss actually growing. All of the children asked if we could do this exercise every nature study outing. As we all walked back to the parking lot, everyone was quiet and then one child said, “Wow, I feel so relaxed.” Another said, “Maybe we should take naps after.”
Five minutes of calm attention to detail brought such a deep sense of calm and relaxation to all of the children, and myself. In a time when everyone is so over scheduled and rushed, when so many are diagnosed with hyperactivity, what a valuable and medicinal experience this is. How many children would benefit from an activity like this each week, or better yet, each day? How many adults would benefit from knowing how medicinal nature can be for the mind, the heart, and one’s health?
This is why I teach nature study to my children. So they always have a resource, a place to go to witness the silence, the song, and the artistry of God. So they know the power of silence, and so they know how to stop and find beauty in the tiniest of details.