Reconnecting Children to Nature

I can remember as a child having a 10-minute walk from the house to my elementary school building. Getting to school involved traveling on a blacktopped path, fenced in on both sides, through a wooded area that had defied development. We entered from a cul-de-sac, and the entrance of the path had houses with bright colors and we smelled flowers. The path descended down through undeveloped wooded land, sloped slightly down to the bottom then flattened out. It ascended a hill to come out into the schoolyard. I probably had more experiences on that path, than I can remember from my grammar school classes.

We had experiences of how our bodies felt, which years later I recognized as somatic experiences. We would stop for a minute where the path flattened out to look into the woods and to watch nature. We listened to the birds, made snowballs and threw them. We stomped in the puddles, slid down the icy hill, before facing the reality of the schoolyard. We stopped to gossip, to harmlessly tease and grab a friend’s hat. Or chase a friend up the hill to the schoolyard.

On an icy morning, the boys would deliberately fall down on the hill and push each other. The children played physically: body-slammed, bounced, fell, and arrived at school with their snow suits caked in snow. We had to step carefully to avoid the mud in the spring. We would pause in the fall to be astonished by a brilliantly colored fallen red leaf on the path, but we couldn’t dawdle too much and arrive late.

Many sensory, cognitive learning and proprioceptive inputs filled the early morning walk to school. We climbed the hill with our book bags, bouncing into the fence at times attempting to climb it. The fence’s construction had some give in it, and it moved if your body slammed it. We elbowed one another up the path as more kids came to walk with us to avoid being left behind the group. We grasped and pulled on the fence down the hill to not slide or fall. We stepped carefully to avoid puddles, (or to make sure you landed in one). We strategized our upward climb to arrive without falling.

Our walk provided a somatically rich morning, socially, cognitively, and in movement. Being in nature quieted our minds naturally before the school day started. We had ample opportunities to work out our stress physically. We arrived at school feeling our bodies. There was the inner warmth of arms and leg muscles that had exercised up the hill. The walk provided our senses with treasured experiences. We had seen real colors in nature, smelled the woods, and possibly tasted snowflakes.