I traveled east last week, landing in New Jersey just as the polar vortex descended and the flakes began to fall. Twelve hours later I awoke to a winter wonderland of shimmering snow, crystal blue skies and bone-chilling temperatures. After dinner that night the children in the household (including two teenagers) tore outside to play in the snow, cajoling the rest of us to join them. Born and raised in Wisconsin, I wasn’t about to let a little cold weather get in my way; minutes later I was making snow angels in the backyard and giggling away.
I have since thought about how purely delightful and uplifting it was to just sink into the snow, feel the frost on my face, the moisture in my boots, and gaze up at the stars. What it felt like to be sharply aware of the moment when slightly chilly became close to frigid, and at what point I had enough and retreated inside. What really hit me was how quickly and poignantly my mind and body were transported back to any number of moments in my childhood, when I played in the snow for hours on end. (I also walked five miles to school, uphill in both directions…)
A recent article by Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) makes a compelling case for filling our children’s worlds with rich experiences in nature. Louv points out the irony that while we live in a place where the natural world is easily accessible and imbedded in our culture, “on any given day in Seattle, parents and kids are locked inside, focused on homework and screens and manufactured spaces…far removed from the landscape that they believe, in theory, so reflects and inspires them.”
Louv’s case for “No Child Left Inside” rests on a growing body of research, not to mention common sense, which confirms that time spent in nature positively impacts mental and physical health. Exposure to nature builds resistance to illness and depression. Interacting with the natural world stimulates cognitive development and creative capacities. Children who spend time outdoors have fewer colds, lower levels of obesity, recover more quickly from mental fatigue and show significant gains in academic performance.
Hopefully I am preaching to the choir here. At Seattle Waldorf School, we know the importance of getting children into nature. Whether it’s exploring Woodland Park, hiking in the Cascades, biking on Lopez Island, or tilling the soil in the grade school garden, our students develop a profound reverence for and connection to the natural world. The rhythm of the seasons becomes part of their being, and we cultivate within the children an awareness of their role as stewards of this planet we inhabit.
Lamentably, Louv notes that, “Pediatricians and other health professionals are beginning to ‘prescribe’ nature” as an antidote for ailing children. It seems to me that for many families Waldorf education and our commitment to the outdoors make that trip to the doctor’s office a walk to the park instead.
Wishing for snow!
SWS is pleased to be a sponsor of Richard Louv’s upcoming lecture at Town Hall on the evening ofTuesday, February 11. Click here for details and purchasing tickets.