Playing Outside Nurtures Spirituality in Children
"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." —Kahlil Gibran
Do you remember—when you would spend time in nature as a child—how you would notice the tiniest things? The fuzzy outer layer of a leaf, the intricate pattern on a ladybug’s back, the smell of the grass? Do you remember the sense of wonder and awe? The feeling of connection to the earth? Not only is playing in nature good for a child’s body and brain, it is good for the soul.
According to a new study, children who spend a significant amount of time playing outside (five to 10 hours per week) feel spiritually connected to the earth and believe that they play a role in its protection.
The researchers from Michigan State University and Yale University observed and engaged the child participants (ages 7-8) in a variety of ways: through in-depth interviews, drawings, diaries and conversations with the parents.
According to the findings, published in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, children who spend a lot of time outside often experience feelings of peace, awe and a sense of belonging in nature. Many are awestruck and humbled by nature’s power and believe that a higher power created the world.
Children who are given plenty of free time to play outside also have a deep appreciation for beauty (balance, symmetry and color), order, and wonder (curiosity, creativity and imagination). They notice the small things that are often overlooked, such as the intricate design of a bee’s nest and tiny patterns in the water.
The researchers also found that the parents of children with the strongest spirituality grew up in nature as well. These parents believe that their own spirituality was enhanced by spending their childhood years outside.
Researcher Gretel Van Wieren, assistant professor of religious studies at Michigan State University, believes that nature is able to inspire children through its amazing display of colors, sights and sounds. She also believes that nature moves us through its uncertainty, its multisensory qualities and mostly, its aliveness.
She adds that the current generation is so strongly plugged into technology that it has created a harmful distance between humans and nature. Fortunately, however, we can do something about this. Let’s encourage our children to get outside—to sink their toes in the sand, to study the grass, to feel the wind in their hair—so that the aliveness of nature can infuse their souls with beauty and order and wonder.