by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Children who spend significant time outdoors could have a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and purpose than those who don’t, according to new Michigan State University research linking children’s experiences in nature with how they define spirituality.
In the study, published recently in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, children who played outside five to 10 hours per week said they felt a spiritual connection with the Earth, and felt their role is to protect it.
“These values are incredibly important to human development and well-being,” said Gretel Van Wieren, assistant professor of religious studies.
“We were surprised by the results. Before we did the study, we asked, ‘Is it just a myth that children have this deep connection with nature?’ But we found it to be true in pretty profound ways.”
For example, the children in her study expressed feelings of peacefulness and some believed that a higher power had created the natural world around them. They also reported feeling awestruck and humbled by nature’s power, such as storms, while also feeling happy and a sense of belonging in the world.
The study also measured children’s aesthetic values, finding that those who engage in free play outside on a regular basis have a deep appreciation for beauty (i.e., balance, symmetry and color), order and wonder (i.e., curiosity, imagination and creativity). For example: lush green bushes, pattern-like blue spots in water and fascination with bees’ nests.
Van Wieren and co-researcher Stephen Kellert, from Yale University, used a mix of research methods, including in-depth interviews, drawings,
diaries and observation, as well as conversations with parents. Seven of the 10 children in the study – who were 7 to 8 years old – were from families with a Christian background.
The researchers also found parents of the children who expressed the highest affinity toward nature and the strongest spirituality spent significant time outdoors during their childhoods. And many of the parents believed such experiences shaped their adult lives and spirituality. So what is it about nature?
It offers a diverse display of colors, sights and sounds; uncertainty; multisensory qualities; and above all, aliveness, Van Wieren said. Nature is usually in a state of flux, which fosters problem-solving opportunities that build self-confidence.
But we could be in trouble if kids continue their technology habits, she said. “This is the first generation that’s significantly plugged in to a different extent and so what does this mean?” Van Wieren said. “Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways. So it’s a scary question: How will this affect our children and how are we going to respond?”
The response to this is rather an obvious one that the researchers seem to simply miss when they ask the question above, unless it was and is a rhetorical one. It is that we must get our kids, from a very early age, back into Nature to play there, the way we did when we were kids. Not as difficult an answer as it is being made out.
And now, with my thick tin foil hat on, I am going to put forward that the reason our kids are, even by means of the authorities where in some places it now seems to be a crime for children to play outside unsupervised, kept out of the natural environment and play in this environment is that it puts them in touch with their spiritual side and connects them to Mother Earth and that is totally against what is being worked at.
No one in their right mind can believe that the threats to children are greater today than they were say 40 or even 80 years ago as regards to perverts and such like. They have always existed but because kids were not – on the whole – ever playing outside alone but were always – mostly – in a group of sorts it and thus they were not as easy prey as is a lone child.
Traffic and such is more a problem today than it was many decades ago and because of the motorcar and its availability to almost everyone a pervert targeting children, whether boys or girls, can come from further afield and be gone rather faster than was the case back when. But, I believe, that much of the issues are created by the media – on behalf of the powers-that-be to keep kids out of the natural environment as a connection with Nature makes them too open to the truth and they are then not as easily influenced by media lies.
OK, tin foil hat off again...
Many churches also are not, and we must face it, too keen on children experiencing a love for the Creation rather than the Creator by the spirituality that comes from close contact with the Earth. It turns kids into people who question what they are told by the priests of the established religions and that undermines their powers. And this is not a new phenomenon either.
No child left indoors must be the slogan with which to work as we must get the children back outdoors and connected to the Earth and this must happen not in a structured way but the children must be allowed to explored and find their own way and connection with the Earth.
Time we brought some sense back into the lives of our kids and our own lives too. We keep them and ourselves way too busy to make any such connections with Nature, with Mother Earth, by allowing them, and ourselves, no time to be in Nature and to commune with Nature.