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Noticing Nature: Incorporating Mindfulness into the Rhythm of the Day

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Mindfulness & Nature Connection

Connecting with nature and practicing mindfulness are closely intertwined. Being a nature-based educator is not simply about knowing different life cycles, names of plant species, and being able to identify tracks. Scientific facts such as these can be learned along the way as you are outside and exploring/ researching with children. The most important quality we should be able to model is connecting with nature by being present, mindful, and appreciative. Observing and being present on a hike, walk, or at a sit spot in our backyard helps us with:

  • noticing the natural world and seasonal changes

  • making connections between how our bodies' senses interpret the natural world

  • developing a deep appreciation for being right here, right now

“What people typically don’t realize is that nature itself is very much like a meditation aid because of how it stimulates and feeds the five senses. Just ask anyone who spends time sitting quietly in the forest listening to birds & frog songs surrounded by the beautiful scent of pine and warm sunlight, and they’ll tell you nature has significant effects on their state of mind.

Exploring nature also tends to be a lot easier for many people compared to meditating inside on a cushion. It really can be as simple as a quiet walk in the park, or chilling out next to some trees in the backyard. The most important thing is that you focus on having a quality experience with sensory awareness… rather than memorization of facts or knowledge. That’s really what nature connection is all about.”

-Brian Mertins,

Benefits for Children & Caregivers

Social-emotional development is the most vital area of early childhood education-- humans need to learn how to coexist, regulate emotions, and work cooperatively before they need to learn how to read and understand mathematic concepts. However, the pushdown of academics leaves less time for educators to facilitate meaningful social-emotional learning with their students. The lack of free play, particularly outside, contributes to this issue because there are many opportunities for social problem-solving & emotional regulation outdoors. Children need free play to develop empathy and emotional intelligence, and advocating for more play in childhood along with incorporating mindfulness and nature connection can positively impact social-emotional development.

Mindfulness as a practice can help children notice and label their emotions and which physiological effects are associated with different emotions. Developmental science tells us that young children are egocentric, yet often adults expect children to understand how their actions affect others by the same standards we use with adults. Mindfulness can be utilized in a developmentally appropriate way for children to begin to explore the perspectives and feelings of people around them and build a foundation that empathy and kindness can flourish. A sense of community and collectivism is often established in schools when slowing down, noticing things, and reflecting together becomes part of the rhythm of the day.

Nature has an undeniable therapeutic quality and regular time outdoors gives children a sense of place, as well as fosters confidence and self-esteem. Think of the many opportunities that children have outdoors to challenge themselves– climbing trees, jumping off rocks, discovering new plants and animals, and learning to play and work in varying weather conditions (resilience!) People who spend time outdoors are more likely to view the land and nature as part of their community that they must care for rather than something that serves them.

Gratitude During Winter

Even the biggest nature lovers that truly admire and respect all of the seasons can struggle with accepting the death, decay, and onset of cold temperatures in places with continental climates such as New England when winter arrives. Setting aside time (not at school or with children) to connect with nature as winter sets in has been important for me to continue appreciating the cycle of the 4 seasons, each one equally important to maintaining ecological balance. Here are some questions to ask yourself to encourage mindfulness and connection to nature in winter:

  • What signs of life exist through the winter?

  • How do the trees sound different without leaves and with snow?

  • Where are the leaves on the ground at in the decomposition process and what animals do I see using them?

  • How are dead plants, leaves, and branches important to the ecological balance, especially for the creatures of the forest?

  • What changing shapes and patterns do I notice in the canopy and landscape?

  • How do I use my 5 senses to notice wind?

  • How does my body feel as I walk over different terrains-- snow, frozen dirt, ice?

Coming Soon!

Roots of Childhood Guidebook #2: Mindfulness through the Seasons

Are you interested in learning more about mindfulness & nature connection, particularly how to keep these practices going throughout the changing seasons? Stay tuned for the second issue of the Roots of Childhood Guidebook series! Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop.

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