There is a growing amount of research citing the benefits of time in nature — of its restorative powers and calming effects. Of course, we talk about research at TGSG, but today I want to talk about my personal journey with the powers of nature and outdoor play. I think research is truly important, but I also believe that our personal connections to issues — our own experiences — shape thought patterns, decisions, and actions more strongly, or at least in equal measure.
Back when I was little more than a kid myself, I worked at a summer camp for youth and teens with disabilities. While many campers were relatively independent, many of our kids had intense medical and personal care needs. We had a beautiful campus with trails, several acres of woods, and a lake. In most ways, except for the accessible design elements and increased medical staff, we were like any other summer camp: Crafts, hiking, fishing, dances, sports, etc.
It was here that my love affair with education started, as well as my belief in the power of nature and play, and the enormous value of recreation. I saw kids truly delight in catching their first fish, learning to canoe, exploring the woods, or simply sitting around with friends on a grassy knoll, laughing and shooting the breeze. Real joy. True laughter.
I saw kids who were meek and anxious become bold as they got comfortable baiting a hook, mastering the use of binoculars, or simply holding a bug to examine it closely. I saw kids who were socially awkward learn to communicate and forge friendships as they worked on pitching a tent together or hiking a trail. In a small garden, I saw pride, awe, and wonder blossom in kids — some of whom couldn’t see the plants, but they could smell them, plot their growth over time via touch, and eat the veggies when the magic of harvest time came. Oh how excited they would get when they got to eat the fruits of their labor!
When a camper would get agitated or upset at dinner, I learned quickly that if I took them outside they would calm down much more quickly than simply leaving the room or the source of their agitation. The sights, the sounds, the smells — whatever it was, nature was a soothing balm.
I could go on and on with examples and anecdotes. During my professional career, I have worked with many different populations. I have worked with adults with traumatic brain injuries, schizophrenia, addiction issues, spinal cord injuries, and of course, countless children and adults without disabilities or medical issues. Universally, I have seen the power of nature and outdoor play in reaching and teaching everyone — whether it’s in the woods, a city park, or a garden. Mother Nature is the great equalizer. She offers each of us something deeply personal and rewarding.
I hope that you will take the time in your own life to notice the benefits of nature and outdoor play, and make sure that the children in your world get ample time outside. Not because the research tells us so, but because we see and feel the benefits and the way time outdoors enriches our lives and the lives of our families.
Speaking of nature — it’s time to unplug and go enjoy this beautiful day. How about you?
See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru