The importance of getting outdoors

Where do I begin?

Do a Google search for the “importance of getting outdoors.”  About 36 million pages are out there, from everywhere around the globe.

Getting outdoors must be important, then!

The current guru for getting kids outside is Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and The Nature Principle.  Both of these books are well worth a read.  You can also read his blog at http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/category/featured/, and watch a short video at http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/video/.

But the concept is not new.  Others have known and written about this reality for decades, too.

  • “We need the tonic of wildness…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  • “Now I see the secret of making the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.” Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  • “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  John Muir

Here’s a different perspective:

  • “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

And finally, as an educator, I can relate to this sentiment, (though it’s not exclusively about getting kids outdoors, the outdoors certainly can be the spark):

  • “Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things.  Awaken people’s curiousity.  It is enough to open minds; do not overload them.  Put there just a spark.  If there is some good inflammable stuff, it will catch fire.”  Anatole France

All of these quotes are from a favourite book of mine, The Earth Speaks – An Acclimatization Journal by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler.  It was published by The Institute for Earth Education in 1983.  (The Institute is currently re-building its website.)  However, you might be able to find a copy of this book elsewhere on the Internet.

So, what do YOU know?  Care to share your thoughts, or what others are saying about the importance of getting outdoors?  I’d like to hear about research into the area, as well as personal anecdotal experiences of significance.  You know – when you had your first “profound” experience outdoors… What was the context?  Where was it?  Were you alone, or with others?  Here’s a chance to tell us all what the outdoors means to you on a personal level.

I’ll start.  When I was in grade eight, our family moved from Windsor to Bracebridge.  It was there that I made my first “spiritual” connection with the earth.  In Windsor, I valued my wanderings through Yawkey Bush, (Now Ojibway Park), and in Bracebridge, I spent hours wandering through the woods of Muskoka.  But one day, while out on a photo expedition, I was laying on my stomach to get an interesting shot of a fern.  I ended up closing my eyes, and putting my face down on the forest floor.  I stayed like that for several minutes, breathing slowly in and out.  Breathing in the earth’s breath.  The rest of the world disappeared.  I melted into the leaves and became part of the growing soil.  I gave myself up to the earth, and became part of her, (you know – Mother Earth…).  I became part of creation in a way I’d never experienced it.  I was filled with peace and contentment.

I’ll never forget the smells of leaves and soil that filled my nose, my lungs.  Writing this reminds me of how simple it is to be at one with the earth.  When I close my eyes now, I can reach a meditative place with no past and no future.  Just the slow breathing in and out of earth’s breath.  Ever-connected to the universe.

Now it’s your turn… What does the outdoors mean to you? Leave a comment, below.

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