Every time I tell the Godly Play story about God creating the world, I am filled with a sense of awe. In the GP story and if we look closely enough in the Bible, we find a passionate and ingenious artist painting with his life’s breath onto the canvas of the world. Oddly enough as a child and as a teenager, the Creation Story was boring to me. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I spent most of my childhood indoors to avoid the heat of the southern United States and way too much time in front of the television. I was not actually acquainted with nature. Unfortunately, many children in the Western world are having the same experience that I had with detrimental societal effects.
In German we have a wonderful term called “Naturpädagogik” (“nature pedagogy”) which I really don’t know the term for in English. The best I can come up with is “nature conservation education”, but nature pedagogy is so much more than just conserving nature. (If any of you Waldorfers or Montessori pros in the English-speaking world have any suggestions for a better term, please let me know!) It is getting to know nature, being a part of it, seeing what it does, and letting the seasons affect our everyday lives. If, as Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, “creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature . . . .”, shouldn’t we as children’s pastors and parents be facilitating spiritual experiences for our children in God’s amazing creation?
Experiencing nature up-close is vital to a child’s spiritual and physical development. On a pure physical level, nature has many benefits and here are just a few:
- Nature has a calming effect on children. Children with behavioural problems concentrate better after walks in green areas.
- Enhances cognitive abilities.
- Children are more physically active and less prone to weight issues.
- Nurtures self-discipline.
- Nurtures healthy curiosity and problem solving.
Here are some articles and websites that have the information above and more on the subject: Children and Nature Network, Young Children's Relationship to Nature, Outside Learning Enriches
In her book, “A Home Start in Reading”, Ruth Beechick writes of a school district that did a test to see whether children who learned to read at an early age performed better than children who were allowed to play outside and explore nature. The nature children did better in the long-run, because their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced through hands-on experiences in the outdoors. (Remember young children are sensorimotor learners and learn with all their senses.)
In their spiritual development, children exposed to nature encounter the mystery of God and develop a healthy curiousity. The second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Children, who for example grow plants and vegetables, develop healthy self-esteem, which is the prerequisite for this commandment. Also, taking care of plants and animals helps children to develop a respect for living things which in turn helps develop the essential quality of compassion.
How do you start? Start simple. Almost any nature experience can be turned into a spiritual experience with a little thought and preparation. Make art with natural things and incorporate them into your worship service. Here are some websites that have lots of good ideas: Naturkinder, Marghanita, The Enchanted Tree, The Magic Onions
A nature table (“Jahreszeittisch” in German) that combines Christian themes with natural materials is another great way to start. Here are some websites that have good ideas for this: Living Montessori Now, A Little Slice of Life, Still Parenting
|This is our January nature table. Christmas may be technically over, but not |
for my 5-year-old! She made this nativity in her kindergarten
and we added some curious forest animals.
In a church setting, arrange an outing and hold your worship service outdoors. In the summer, we do our Family Brunch in one of the parks near our home and the kids love it. It may be a bit chaotic, but the long-term benefits are worth the chaos!
|The ultimate adventure with God and his creation: |
my children, then ages 5 and 3, in Uganda
with two newly found friends.