What is a nature walk and why are they so beneficial? When a friend posed this question and asked me ‘How to do it?’, I was surprised by how difficult it was to give a concise answer. Perhaps that is why there is some confusion on the what, why and how’s of nature walking…
So today, I want to demystify this wonderful learning tool and life-long enjoyable practice! Really, it isn’t complicated.
In a nutshell, it is getting outside, observing and enjoying nature.
While simple to define, the possibilities are endless which can make it hard to pin down sometimes. I’m sure you’ll find that most of you already do nature walks and just don’t even realize it!
One of the beauties of nature walking is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes we get out to enjoy nature by leaving ‘civilization’ to go for a wilderness hike or walk in a nature preserve. But oftentimes (especially if you have young children), it can easily be accomplished by walking in your own neighborhood.
So we know what it is (in a nutshell), but why do it?
To Enjoy Nature and Its Creator! As a believer, I think the biggest benefit of getting outside in nature is to enjoy the variety and creativity found in the natural world. As an adult, I marvel and pause to worship the Creator of such diversity and beauty. As a parent, I’ve found it a wonderful opportunity to share about God with my children in an easy, concrete way and draw their hearts towards worship and thankfulness for the beautiful world in which we live.
Develops Observation Skills – Cultivating curiosity and acute observation skills in our children will lay a strong foundation for the rest of their learning journey (which is a life-long pursuit). Using our 5 senses – smell, sight, hearing, touching, tasting (ok that one is a stretch, unless you have toddlers), your children can discover a lot about the world around them. Often times when we are out walking, I’ll ask them what they see, smell, hear, etc. Other times, I’ll model this observation process by telling them something I see or how much I love the smell of the creosote after it rains here in the desert. Being outdoors creates ‘the observer.’ ‘the wanderer.’ ‘the scientist,’ ‘the inspired,’ ‘the creator,’ ‘the playful one,’ and ‘the seriously curious’ – roles that will stick with your children for the rest of their lives!
Concrete-Relatable Learning – Especially with the younger crowd, learning really should start out with things in their immediate environment. It is far easier to relate to something a child can observe themselves. It is also immensely enjoyable to understand your immediate environment. They experience satisfaction at spotting fruit at the top of a saguaro or identifying a poisonous plant to avoid.
Promotes Multi-Level/Family Learning – Every person benefits from getting out into their natural environment from the newest baby to mom and dad! As a new mother, I knew that a sure-fire way to calm my baby was to take him for a walk. He became wide-eyed, taking everything in and came back exhausted and slept, giving me a much needed break from the fussies. As I walk with my children, we all start asking questions and making observations. This began with me modeling to them the process of making observations and asking questions. Now it comes naturally for everyone. Sometimes they will ask something I don’t know the answer too. I love it when this happens because then we all get to discover something new!!! Since they are too young to be sent searching for the answer themselves, I will go look and report my findings on our next walk. We now know the difference between a Mesquite and Acacia tree. I know that they bloom at different times of the year, drop different colored pods and that the Acacia isn’t actually native to Arizona. Our walks are richer and the kids enjoy pointing out and identifying the various trees in our neighborhood. I enjoy learning right along with them!
A Stress Reducer – I mentioned the fussy baby earlier, but I’ve experience the benefits of getting outside both for my own stress levels and those of my kids. Even though everyone experiences reduction in stress levels, some of us need that precious outdoor time more than others. My middle son and I fall into that latter category…
Improves Concentration – Getting outside and walking helps unwind bodies and minds alike. Oftentimes, it will allow the mind to sort through a problem it was working on and tackle it with fresh perspective at the end of a walk. I used to take a quick walks while studying for exams in college or when faced with difficult decisions. It was a great way to clear my head, pray and then later to return to the task at hand. Kids are no different in this need to unwind and then refocus…
Of course these benefits just being to scratch the surface! Time outside in the natural world has so many benefits. (I’d love to hear of any you can think of!)