“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder
“Happy birfday, baby earwigs, happy birfday…you,” my 2 year-old tunelessly sings. He squats, heals sunk deep in the March mud of the backyard, peering earnestly at the hollow left by the rock we’ve just overturned. In a small crevice, an earwig shifts restlessly, as dozens of baby earwigs scoot and scuttle over and around it. We sit for 5 minutes, watching the earwigs and the centipedes, observing the mycorrhizae, searching for an errant worm. Somewhere on our peninsula, a train car connects to another with a crash, and the wind blows through the burgeoning buds on the dogwood tree.
In one sense, mindfulness comes naturally when you spend time with a small child. They rarely lament the past and have only a foggily faint idea of the meaning of the future. Instead, they toddle between the puff of a dandelion and the buzz of a bee, disregarding all need for rush and bother. They are truly in the present moment. In another sense, however, it is mindfulness that our sweet children need to practice. It is the deep breaths. The support of self. The concentration. Nature is a perfect tool for teaching our children how to be mindful. And perhaps, just maybe, we can become more mindful ourselves.
5 ways to inspire mindfulness through nature:
1. Use your senses.
When my son and I exit a building, or if we’ve been rushing too much, I will sometimes ask him to stop. I crouch down to his height and we observe.
Start with asking what your child sees. Please don’t correct or interpret their answers. If the car is blue but they say green, that’s okay for this purpose.
Next, ask them what they hear. After giving them enough time to answer, at least 10-15 seconds of wait time and maybe more, suggest some ideas. “I hear a wind chime. What else do you hear?”
Third, ask them to take a deep breath through their nose. What do they smell? Again, after waiting, suggest some of the subtleties they may not have noticed. “I smell the wet earth after the rain.” Or “I smell the daphne blooming in our neighbor’s yard.”
Fourth, ask them to feel a few different textures. Perhaps the fuzzy dampness of the moss, or the brittle crispiness of a leaf, or maybe the smooth strength of a stone. Ask them for descriptions and add your own, again, after waiting for their answers.
Finally, if there is something safe to taste, have your child try it. It could be a sip of air. Does it taste like anything? Maybe it’s a falling snowflake or a raindrop. Perhaps it is a (clean and organic) dandelion green or a violet. Of course, only offer edible plants if you’ve been trained to properly identify and harvest them.
2. Sit and breathe.
Since my son was little, I have been consciously working on helping him breathe through frustration. Whether it’s a too-small neck hole on a shirt, a pen cap that won’t open, or the feeling of injustice when another child grabs a coveted toy, we pause and take a deep breath before reacting. Recently, I’ve observed him practicing this technique by himself as well.
Find a comfortable place to sit. A rock, a stump, the grass, or even in the dirt are all wonderful.
Sit in a way that is comfortable for you both. If you want, your child can sit on your lap, or perhaps they’d like to sit on their own.
Ask your child to take a deep breath and try to fill their belly up as full as they can, and then slowly let it out.
Ask your child to do this five times. If it feels right, count for them as they breathe. In for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds (this might not be possible for littler kids) and out.
If you’d like, you can tell your child that they are giving the trees air to breathe and that the tress will give them oxygen in return.
Repeat this for as long as you both maintain interest. If your child is done after only one breath, let it go and enjoy some other activity together. It will come.
3. Stand like a tree.
Trees are still and strong. Trees are the observers of the more active beings in the woods, and trees breathe in our waste and breathe out oxygen. Trees are strong and can bear great force, but push them too hard or too fast, and they can snap.
Take off your shoes if you’d like. Spread your toes and feel the dirt or the grass or the leaves.
Explain to your child that their toes are like roots, attached to the ground. Imagine them going deep into the earth, searching for water. Their body is the trunk, strong and powerful. Their arms are the branches and fingers are the twigs.
Spread your branches and reach and stretch. Spread fingers wide. Ask your child to observe the wind that passes over their branches, the sun that shines down, the birds and animals that are nearby. You could pretend to have a bird’s nest in a crook of an arm, or bend back and forth with the wind.
Now take some deep belly breaths and slowly let them out. Ask your child to imagine that the air they are breathing out is helping people and animals to breathe.
4. Cloud shapes.
Clouds are ephemeral, changing moment to moment and passing by with no hope of staying permanently. Pausing to watch the clouds move can allow a slow moment in a fast-paced day and can provide space to use your imagination as well.
Find a place to lie down and look at the sky. Or, sit and look up if that is more comfortable. Ask your child what they see. Point out some things you observe, after giving them a lot of time to share, of course. Maybe you notice which way the clouds are moving. Maybe you notice some different types or different colors. Perhaps you can see birds flying or airplanes moving.
Next, ask your child what shapes they see. Be careful not to correct their impressions or to ascribe meaning or interpret for them. What they see is what they see, and this is wonderful.
Take a moment or two simply to watch the sky in silence. Introspection and observation are wonderful for children.
5. Deer walk.
When I was in elementary school, I attended a camp that was based on ancestral living skills. One night, we stayed overnight and spent hours in the wood in the dark. We learned to walk like deer, moving soundlessly through the woods. I still practice this skill sometimes and my son is learning to creep quietly as well.
Find a place to walk like a deer. It could be your backyard, or the park, or even a vacant lot. It could also be the wood or a meadow. Explain that deer walk very quietly so as to remain unheard by predators.
Show your child how to walk like a deer. Use your front foot to find a quiet place to step. Moss, bare earth, and exposed rock are the best. Once you’ve found the place, put the weight into the heel of your front foot and raise your back foot. Next, bring this foot forward to find the next quiet place to step.
Move slowly and deliberately. Keep your ears tuned for sounds and your eyes open.
Try communicating without speaking. Use your face and your hands! If your child talks or begins walking noisily, please don’t criticize them. Instead, motion for them to watch you and demonstrate the quietness of a deer.
After your walk, ask your child what it was like to walk so slowly and quietly. Be open to any response they give.
Mindfulness is not an overnight process, but learned as a child, it can be a lifelong aid in helping your child to deal with stress, help with concentration, handle setback and much more.
Yesterday, as my son and I left my mom’s house after dinner, we walked down the steps onto the sidewalk. My son was in my arms and immediately threw his hand up in the air, pointing out the moon, the V of geese heading towards the wetland, and the wisps of clouds painted pink as the last bits of sun faded into Venus’ Belt. Without prompting, he took a deep breath and let it out. “I happy,” he stated. We paused, staring up, and then proceeded down the walk towards home.
If you would like to keep up with Celeste’s beautiful storytelling, you can find her at The Sound of Celeste.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom with our Pebbles community, Celeste!