Have you noticed that nature connection programs are becoming a lot more common lately?
There’s forest schools, nature kindergartens & weekend programs for teens… even adult immersion programs where you spend a year in the woods practicing animal tracking, survival skills & mentoring techniques – all in the name of getting connected with nature.
So as these programs become more and more popular, you might be wondering – What is nature connection?
Nature connection means two things:
- The act of personally engaging with nature through sensory awareness & observation skills rather than memorizing facts or knowledge about nature.
- It also refers to the personal benefits that occur as a result of spending quality time in nature.
Nature connection programs take a dramatically different approach towards nature education compared to a typical science class that might talk about birds, plants, trees & ecosystems.
Rather than being 100% academic & knowledge focused – nature connection is much more about having meaningful experiences with nature that actually improve the health, happiness & intelligence of participants.
If it sounds like a bit of a stretch to say that meaningful experiences in nature can make you healthier, happier and more intelligent… it’s really not.
And here’s why…
Nature Connection VS Technology & Distraction
It’s well known that most people today pattern their lives around indoor technology and devices that both scatters our focus & attention while increasing stress.
Children are growing up with more and more constant distractions & busy schedules… and it only gets worse as we age and become adults.
This all comes at the same time as our entire society is spending less time outside surrounded by fresh air, trees & bird sounds than ever before in human history.
So part of the philosophy behind nature connection is creating opportunities for children and adults to have a break from the constant grind of modern life.
People who get regular quality time in nature report feeling a sense of inner peace and mental clarity that helps them function better in their daily lives.
Most people innately understand this, and it’s a big part of why millions flock to national parks every summer to camp, hike & retreat from city life.
But the benefits of nature connection are also well backed by research demonstrating benefits for stress reduction, immune system functioning, faster recovery from surgery & improved happiness.
It’s even been shown that meaningful sensory experiences in nature can help children with problem solving, risk assessment and empathy, which has long term benefits for communication & leadership skills.
This is a big part of why I believe forest schools and nature kindergartens will continue to become a more and more important part of the education system as time goes on.
Plus – If you can find ways simple ways to connect with nature on a daily and weekly basis beyond the yearly camping trip, it works even better.
It’s easy to do, and lots of fun!
How Nature Connection Works (With Mindfulness)
Nature connection is all about getting outside to explore a natural setting with your own basic sensory awareness & observation skills.
In a technology-driven world, most people are only using a very small portion of their total capacity to sense and perceive what’s happening in their surroundings.
This is one of the reasons why mindfulness practices come so highly recommended by mental health practitioners.
Everybody knows that simply adding a daily meditation practice can have dramatic effects on mood, sleep quality, energy, focus, motivation & personality.
What people typically don’t realize is that nature itself is very much like a meditation aid because of how it stimulates and feeds the five senses.
Just ask anyone who spends time sitting quietly in the forest listening to birds & frog songs surrounded by the beautiful scent of pine and warm sunlight, and they’ll tell you nature has significant effects on their state of mind.
Exploring nature also tends to be a lot easier for many people compared to meditating inside on a cushion.
It really can be as simple as a quiet walk in the park, or chilling out next to some trees in the backyard.
The most important thing is that you focus on having a quality experience with sensory awareness… rather than memorization of facts or knowledge.
That’s really what nature connection is all about.
Experiential Learning VS Knowledge & Facts
Nature connection isn’t just about spending time in nature.
It also depends on the attitude you have towards the natural environment, and how present you are with your surroundings.
For example – lots of people go jogging or get their daily exercise in a local park. But very often they wear headphones, and spend all their time absorbed in thinking & planning.
Being caught up in your head is not the same as connecting with nature.
That would be like trying to connect with a good friend while wearing headphones and completely ignoring everything they say!
In order to truly connect with nature, you need to let go of all the normal distractions and really tune in with what’s happening around you.
Ask yourself some good awareness questions:
- Where are you? What’s happening around you? What are you observing?
- What’s happening with the birds, plants, trees, weather?
- What can you notice with your eyes, ears and other senses?
- What are you curious about in your surroundings?
However, just because you focus on nature, doesn’t mean you need to be an expert and have tons of academic knowledge about plants, birds, trees, etc.
In fact, quite the opposite!
Most nature education focuses on a very academic or biological understanding of the environment.
In academic studies, you might learn a lot of abstract knowledge about the environment, but the experiential & sensory awareness side is under-emphasized.
In contrast to this approach – nature connection puts the emphasis on personal awareness first.
Simply observing and being aware of what you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, and noticing on all different levels is enough to get you started.
And this is something everyone can do whether you’re a total beginner or already more advanced.
So it’s not about knowledge. It’s about experience.
You will still learn lots of cool stuff about birds, plants, trees and animals through the process, but simply having a bunch of facts is not the main focus.
And now that you have the right attitude, the good news is there are literally dozens of fun and simple ways to actually build your connection with nature.
It all just depends on your own personal interests & curiosity to decide how YOU want to connect.
Here’s how to do it…
How To Get In Touch With Nature:
All you have to do is get outside and practice tuning in with your natural surroundings by doing simple activities that engage your sensory awareness through plants, birds, trees, etc.
- Go exploring in the forest
- Learn your local plants, trees & birds
- Find things to harvest for food, medicine & craft-making
- Explore some local animal tracking hotspots
- Find a quiet place to sit down and listen to the birds
- Play awareness games like capture the flag
It doesn’t really matter what you personally choose to focus on, as long as it’s genuinely interesting to YOU.
Try asking yourself – What makes me curious about nature?
- Are you drawn to exploring plants or birds?
- Are you excited about getting close to wild animals?
- Are you more passionate about the big picture and see how everything connects together?
If you can identify even just one area of the natural world that sparks genuine curiosity – that’s really the perfect place to start your journey.
I’ve been mentoring people in nature connection for over ten years now.
And it’s really obvious to me that natural curiosity is one of the best predictors of whether a student will follow through and achieve their desired level of connection with nature.
I’m always looking for those key things outside that really light someone’s passions & get their blood pumping… Because that’s what leads to real life action and change!
The main caveat here is that sometimes it takes a bit of exploration and practice before you discover what really makes you curious.
And that’s okay!
It’s important to realize that curiosity is a characteristic that will develop and become stronger with use.
So if sitting quietly in the forest seems a bit boring at first… just give it some time and things will gradually start to catch your attention.
If you ever catch yourself thinking you don’t have any natural curiosity – you’re not alone!
It might just start as a vague interest in hiking or camping, but I truly believe that everyone has natural curiosity that will always emerge when given the opportunity.
Just think about what it’s like to be a kid or an animal. You don’t have to tell them to be curious… they are naturally driven to explore and investigate!
As an adult, if you’ve allowed this natural learning skill to atrophy, it’s just a matter of time and practice.
So let’s take the next step starting TODAY!
Here’s a simple exercise you can do.
- Get yourself outside and invest a few minutes connecting with nature.
- Focus your eyes, ears & attitude on being present with your surroundings.
- Do something that interests you outside.
- Watch, look, listen & observe as deeply as you can.
For bonus points afterwards – go to a friend and tell them about your nature connection experience.
Share the story and talk about how it felt to be present in nature. What did you see? What did you hear? And what made you curious to explore deeper?
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