We are made from the dust of the Earth; Nature is a part of us. It made sense to me, when I became a mother, to shield my baby boy from the flashy distractions and materials that come from the modern world. There are crucial years, the early years, when synapses (connections) in the brain are merging. As if to give a child a sweet candy every time they did something right; it may take years of therapy (for that adult) to feel fully rewarded or complete without an external reward of sweet treats (for example).
That being said, children thrive in nature and that’s exactly what nature based parenting is all about. Inviting the child to explore their senses outside while inviting the outside into the home. For my son, this means getting outside daily, it means wooden toys, and lots of plants hanging from the ceiling or lining the tops of play shelves.This means opening up the window shade for natural light and stepping out to feel the rain or to sniff the wind. For older children this may include crafts that involve items found in nature, a paint colour wheel filled with items that match each colour zone (rocks-grey, pinecones-brown, seaglass, leaves- green, etc). For even older children, getting out into nature could involve scavenger hunts, or learning to pot plants and garden, to sprout a seed and wait patiently for growth.
As a nature based parent, your motive is to make the connection for your child that we are connected to and a part of nature just as much as nature is a part of us. We slow down, we take our time, we focus, we engage in imaginative play. All of this benefits the learning ability and brain function of your child in seemingly endless ways. Plants clean the air, but they also offer colour, texture, shape. A mobile hanging above a play area could simply be seashells hanging from a dried out piece of branch. I include sensory materials for my son, albeit he is still quite young. These materials include a velvet cushion, a faux fur rug, and a few fuzzy stuffed animals/ hand puppets.
It’s never too late to start this connection with nature, some adults seek peace by submerging themselves into the outdoors, which they’ve never done until their adult life. However it is much harder because the connections weren’t previously made and, instead, other connections were made which need to be interrupted.
Nature based parenting isn’t like ticking off certain boxes: plants- check, bowl of pebbles-check. Rather, these parents have many different methods of providing a nature approach with the child. I would describe myself as a minimalist, nature based parent because I take a low sensory approach and prefer to clear the space for his energy to flow. Energy, I believe, gets blocked if objects clutter the play space in a crowded, busy room. This isn’t to say my house is always spotless! This is to say that I prioritize and minimize.Among the half shelf of story books to choose from, the plants, the essential oil aromatherapy, and the wooden toys in my son’s playroom--there is a stillness. The ability for him to hear himself think, learn, and explore. To look up expectantly when he hears our dogs’ nails clicking toward him on the floor. We do have the tv on a bit at night but not very long and the real point is not to overwhelm the child. Believe it or not, children get overwhelmed with too many decisions and that includes too many toys, lights, or sound!
If you have so far been a parent of opposite, try easing in and rotating the toys. Take half of your child’s toys away and store them in a box out of sight . In a month rotate out a few more toys while swapping back in some old ones. Trust me, your child will be elated to see their old toy, it might as well be a new one! Better yet, make some toys made from organic materials of the planet (So long as your child is passed the point of eating everything)! You’d be impressed with the imagination a child can produce just by engaging it! Limit the screen time and encourage them to get outdoors. Allow them to get muddy or wet! Go out with them and show them how fun it can be! Again, it is harder the older they are, but not impossible! Leading discussions about animals and talking with them about where food comes from will all create lasting connections in their mind. Find shapes in the clouds, have them choose which season they like best and why. Some parents might say “But it’s a digital world and I will raise a lazy child if they’re out in nature all day daydreaming”. While this concern is valid, the outcome is quite the contrary. When children are grounded and not overly stimulated, they actually learn and focus better with overall enhanced cognitive health, which gives them confidence and will motivate them to challenge their minds to fulfill a career of their choosing. There are plenty of ideas--too many to write--but this is merely a thought for you, the reader- the caregiver or parent, to think about. Introducing a nature based parenting approach with your child doesn’t mean you need to hike everyday and practically live in the outdoors. Just invite your child to pluck a few pretty leaves and put them in a little glass jar of water. The rest will follow. Live it well...because you only live once.