At St.David’s, we are lucky enough to have a school forest as part of our property, as well as a wonderful city nature trail behind that, leading to a bridge that goes over Minnehaha Creek. We can say, without a doubt, that getting out into nature is of tremendous benefit to young children.
Today was no exception. Being the last day of school, the children were, shall we say, a little squirrelly. There was some misbehavior. We agreed: let’s get out onto the Minnetonka Trail. The difference was immediate. The children became calmer, more regulated, and more focused. Their attention was turned away from using potty words and throwing sand, and toward what they were discovering in the woods. “A worm! I see a worm!” “Look, there’s a yellow bird. Wait, there’s another one!” We pointed out the milkweed, and asked them what ate that. They remembered from last summer. “Monarch caterpillars!”
They all picked up interesting rocks, and sticks. But in the woods, they didn’t use the sticks to poke each other. They used them as walking sticks, or they just carried them. When one child was unhappy that she couldn’t find a good walking stick, another child kindly found one for her. When we got to the big bridge and the creek, they used the sticks to poke in the mud at the edge, where they were thrilled to discover turkey tracks, duck tracks, and bear tracks. (Well, it must have been a very large dog, but we didn’t feel the need to burst their bubble unless they asked, which one child did.) When they looked over the edge, they saw a foot-long fish swimming through the seaweed, and used their visual-tracking skills to follow it. They shared their excitement with their friends.
Going on a long hike and being outdoors in the woods benefited their social, cognitive, emotional and physical development. We cannot emphasize enough: nature is not just good for children, it is crucial!