08 Apr How to Raise an Environmentalist — From the Inside Out
I had a secret spot outside I went to as a child, a tree in my neighbor’s yard. It was quite tall and I loved to climb trees. Officially I wasn’t allowed there but I often snuck into the yard and climbed all the way to the tippy-top. I was so hidden that sometimes the cranky neighbor would come outside to water her plants and I would be stuck up there for an hour or two.
I loved so much about that tree. I loved climbing it and feeling my body stretch and reach from branch to branch. The view was magical. I loved that at the top it would sway as I sat in my perch. It was a birch tree and the bark peeled like paper, feeling both smooth and rough at the same time. In fact, I collected its sheddings and made a book from its bark once. It amazed me that the tree shed layers like skin.
When I was in that tree I was a part of the tree. I was immersed in nature and felt its aliveness and my own more profoundly.
Time in nature can be profound for all kids. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (get it?) you already know this. From ADHD to anger management and the development of creativity, it has been proven that time in nature is beneficial for our kids (and their parents)! Seems like almost every day I see an article about the benefits of nature for kids.
I get that sometimes all we want to do is kick back and watch Netflix all afternoon. Still, most of us haul our kids outside at least once in a while, cause we know that at the very least it will make for a better night’s sleep for our maniacal moving children! I confess to bribing my kids on the hiking trail with morsels. I also recall one day where all I wanted was a nap, but I sat on the park bench and willed my eyes open so my toddler could play himself tired in the sand. My kids always seemed more in their bodies after being outside, so it was worth the effort.
Nature reflects a child’s inner workings back to them. That’s an important part of the relationship between nature and kids that I have never seen discussed. It wasn’t until my kids were a bit older that I realized I had been missing opportunities to grow my children’s health esteem by pointing that out. As revolutionary, evolutionary parents we can have conscious conversations highlighting how nature outside is reflected in the nature of our own bodies.
“Whaaaaat?” you say. Well, nature mirrors our bodies. A rushing stream is like blood coursing through our veins. Trees are the lungs of the planet. They actually breathe. A patch of desert looks just like dry skin. Plants grow and burst with flowers and recede just like a pimple or an ovum (pubescent teen alert). A lightning flash resembles a nerve impulse. Organs begin like tiny buds on a plant and then grow and mature. The same biological mechanisms that function in trees and dirt function in our bodies: movement, respiration, excretion, reproduction, digestion, change and growth.
When you help your kids notice these parallels, you’re building little environmentalists, not because they learn to save nature but because they see they are nature.
Finding analogies between our bodies and nature makes for endless discussion, because the elemental truth is we are one and the same. Being in nature keeps kids connected to themselves and reflects back to them that they are part of a bigger picture that uses the same mechanisms for balance. If you need a starting point for dialogue, point this out to your kids:
The microcosm (the body) reflects the macrocosm (the universe). And vice versa.
Let’s cultivate the feeling of staring at our bodies and being in awe. The universe of our body is incredible, indescribable, and contains just as many mysteries as the starry skies. The sun rises and sets, the tides flood and ebb, the rains come and go, the rivers surge and recede. In the same way, our hearts beat quickly then recover, our stomachs digest and rest, our muscles contract and relax, our glands pump out hormones and then reset. Being in nature and pointing out the similarities helps us to feel connected to the greater experience.
I’ve known this on some level since I broke the rules and climbed that tree. Feeling embraced by its majestic presence was far more instructional than any ecology class I ever took. Kids who are connected to the earth are as unlikely to throw a gum wrapper on the ground as they are likely to take care of their own bodies.
And if you want to see a cool video of the earth “breathing” watch this.
Want to know my story? Check out the About section to learn more about the education and life experiences that inspired me to start a health revolution.