Nature helps develop spirituality in children

Nature helps develop spirituality in children

With so much time spent with technology, according to the National Wildlife Federation, “The nature of childhood has changed. There’s not much nature in it.” Getting outside in nature has been found to reduce childhood obesity, boost classroom performance and spur imagination. New research reveals that nature also affects how children define spirituality.

The study, published in a recent issue of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, found that children who spent play time outside for five to 10 hours each week said they felt spiritually connected to the earth and believed that it was their role to protect it.

Research also uncovered the notion that those children who spent more time outdoors had a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and purpose compared to those who don’t.

“In the world’s major religions, in sacred texts, there abound stories of lessons learned from the seasons and from nature,” says Rev. Stacey Jutila, vice president of mission and spiritual care for Advocate Children’s Hospital.

“There is a Jewish tale of a Rabbi who finds his son reading the Torah, while sitting in a tree. The father proclaims, ‘Son, don’t you know that the wisdom of the Torah is the same, whether you are in the synagogue or in a tree?’ The boy proclaims, ‘Yes, that is true, but I am different when I read it while sitting in the tree,’” she explains.

Researchers studied 10 children ranging in ages from 7 to 8 years old. Most of the children came from families with a Christian background. Participants in the study shared feelings of peacefulness at being in nature. Some even believed that a higher power had created the natural world around them. These children also reported feeling humbled with a sense of awe by acts of nature such as storms. At the same time, they also expressed feelings of happiness and a sense of belonging in the world.

“As we speak with children about the wonders of faith, of God, and spirit, nature provides us with active and living metaphors for hope, grief and loss, and change,” says Jutila.

She sees this take place through experiences her daughter, a toddler, is having. Jutila explains that her daughter’s daycare has had caterpillars that they have faithfully watched in recent weeks, and with joy, the children have seen these hungry caterpillars transformed into living butterflies. “As we pray at the dinner table and before we go to bed at night, I can talk with her about God’s love being ever present and ever transforming and like a caterpillar, we too can be transformed in new and amazing ways,” she says.

“Beyond a sense of peace and well being occurring in nature, children also learn a sense of reverence, awe and respect for the world, as we take part and delight in the natural world,” Jutila adds.

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  1. Kristine Friend May 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm · Reply

    I am ha huge proponent of kids being exposed to and unafraid of nature. We spend as much time as possible outside and exploring the awesomeness of nature. When we visit new places, we always walk and hike as many types of terrain as we can – grasslands, mountains, beaches, etc. My husband and I try to engage our kids with nature. It’s not so much about the walk as it is what you see and discover while you’re there. We encourage them to walk slowly and look all around – every direction – and find something they haven’t seen before. We teach them not to disturb nature and be respectful of it. We pick up garbage others have left and talk about what it means to litter the planet we live in. My daughter is more in love with animals than any kid I’ve ever seen. My son has been known to find a stick he likes and bring it to bed with him. It is so important for kids to experience nature. I went to college in Carbondale with a girl who grew up in the city. We went out to Giant City State Park and were driving to the parking lot. On the way, we saw a deer. She screamed, “Stop the car! Stop the car!” She jumped out of the car and just stood there in awe of this gentle creature. The rest of us grew up in more rural areas and we all looked at each other in disbelief. I asked her if she’d ever seen a deer before. She said, “Not in person!” I was so sad for her. I felt like she didn’t really have a childhood. I’m so blessed to have grown up the way I did – with parents and grandparents who loved nature and went out of their way to expose me to it. I’m doing the same for my own kids.

    • Nikki Hopewell May 7, 2014 at 4:12 pm · Reply

      This is so great to hear, Kristine! So glad your children are developing a love of nature. It’s really good for the soul. Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit as you well know. 😉 Keep up the great work!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.