Their Own True Nature: Children, Part I

I just lifted the window in my office to let some fresh air in and as I did, I saw the rings left on the quarry water from bass rising to feed on insects. I can’t see those rings and not think about our grandsons, Kyle and Colby, who for most of their lives have spent the last week of April here giving those bass and various other fishes a real run for their money. A photo of the two of them, Kyle holding a tiny ice fishing rod and Colby holding the line with a rainbow trout he caught on it here, became the Kittery Trading Post’s advertisement a few summers ago.  It had a quote from Emerson, “Men think it’s about the fishing, but it’s not”.

Men think it's about the fishing; it's not. Ralph Waldo Emerson

This April vacation baseball games and practices won out over Kyle and Colby’s desire and my argument for them to visit here. Of course children whose parents could take their children away to Disney World last week were not present to fulfill sports commitments, leaving teams short. I wrangled with my son over this point to which he said, “But you are not Disney World.”  Amen to that! Light Heart Retreat is not Disney World.

The true nature of children is to be in and engaging with nature every day.  I grew up in a time when we had much freedom to roam.  My mother’s mantra was, “Get outside and play!” And we did! We ran from the bus after school, eager to get out of our school clothes and shoes and into our play clothes. We didn’t come home moping, dragging a ten pound back pack loaded with books and homework. We didn’t have the pressure of fitting that homework in before sports, or lessons, a club, or some other commitment. When we got off the bus we were free to exercise our true nature and needed little or no encouragement to do so.

I am so utterly grateful for having the opportunity to have made a connection with nature as a child that grew and developed and that continues to expand even now. What has the relationship given me? Everything! It’s given me experience I could never get from reading about nature in a book or from hours of viewing the best programming available on Nature. Some examples:

  • A heightened sense of smell. I can still recall the scent of sweet fern growing in the fields of my childhood home. Whenever I’m near sweet fern, I immediately can identify the scent.
  • Acute sense of hearing. The song of the wood thrush at dusk was also something imprinted on my impressionable growing brain, as a child. I’d not heard a thrush in many years and moving to downeast Maine, it made my heart sing to hear the call of the hermit thrush, which never sings a bar quite the same way twice.
  • An attuned sense of touch and appreciation for textures. Children have to touch and feel everything they set their eyes on. I know what dewy grass feels like underfoot, the soft prickle of pine needles brushing across my face. I know that a grass snake feels dry in my hands, not slimy, as expected.
  • A keen sense of taste. I well know the sweet taste of a wild strawberry, the tartness of a bite of fresh rhubarb stalk, the bitter taste of dandelion greens. I find such pleasure in the tastes of natural foods, that nothing manufactured can rival it.
  • A sense of symmetry, pattern, color, order and the ability to interpret what these mean such as being able to identify a tree by it’s shape, a bird by the pattern of flight. This attunement to nature is the basis for my intuition, allowing me to recognize when something is not right with what I am seeing and sensing. This is not extra sensory perception, but ultra use of my usual five senses that has been cultivated in my relationship with Nature.

More than anything this blessed relationship with Nature has and continues to bring me peace, solace, and joy when I most need it. As a child I ran off to fields and woods to heal my wounds. I didn’t turn on the tv, nor did I open the refrigerator. As a pre-teen and teenager I had a big granite boulder I retreated to when I was troubled. I sat on the very top of it and looked out on Great Bay and calm would come. When I climbed off the rock and returned home, I was centered, balanced. Often I would have an answer to what I was dealing with.

Kyle's Special Stone

What do the experts say are the benefits to children having a strong relationship to Nature?  Here’s a list based on scientific studies from Interaction with Nature During the Middle Years: Its Importance to Children’s Development & Nature’s Future by Randy White.

  • Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Wells 2000, Taylor 2002).
  • Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft 2001).
  • When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor, et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000).
  • Exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).
  • Nature buffers the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity.  The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells 2003).
  • Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying (Malone & Tranter 2003).
  • Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world (Crain 2001).
  • Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991).  Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).
  • Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1996).
  • A decrease in children’s time spent outdoors is contributing to an increase of children’s myopia in developed countries (Nowak 2004).
  • Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler, Floyd & Hammutt 2002).
  • Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).

Colby loves to help with the harvest.

For the complete article please go to

It’s an easy out to say we live in a different world now and that the kind of connection with Nature I’ve written about just isn’t practical or available to us anymore. I strongly disagree and I encourage you to explore the links below that refute the reality of “stranger danger” and all the other common arguments for keeping children safe inside, on the run and apart from Nature and what I believe to be their True Nature.

I’m going to continue on this subject next week and perhaps beyond, touching on some of the contributing factors that keep children separated from Nature and from knowing their own true Nature.

I have a question for readers. What are some of your most precious memories of your childhood? I’m banking that it won’t be about some success you were celebrated for (like winning a championship game), but will be about a time spent in nature with someone you loved.

In the next blog on May 17th,  I’m going to start pushing those hot buttons I warned about in last week’s email notice. So get ready. I’ll be addressing the culture of competition we’ve been raising our children in. Here’s a piece from Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet, to get the ball rolling:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

And he said:  Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are set forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of  the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

–Kahlil Gibran

I’ll be blogging every other week over the spring and summer. The nature child within just can’t bare to be inside all day every Monday. I hope you’ll shut down your computer now, go outside and listen to the sounds of Spring. Smell the scents of Spring. Take off your shoes and feel the Spring grass underfoot. Pick a piece of clover or a chive or mint or a lilac bud and taste what Spring tastes like. Soak up Spring’s colors through your eyes and if the stars are out, soak up the star light. All of this will help you to

Shine your Light,




  1. I received this email from a friend, Jimmy Brackett. His family owned a summer cottage across the street from our home in Greenland.

    “In a small way your thoughts keep the memories of the Bay alive for me. It’s always nice hearing from you & reading what you have to offer. Stay well.”

    I have many fond memories of summers that include Jimmy. Walking home from a hayride through moonlit cornfields without any flashlights. A trip out to the Isles of Shoals in his family’s little Boston Whaler. The sea had been amazingly flat. When we returned however, the currents and wakes from large boats passing under the Memorial Bridge almost capsized us. I was 13 and he was just 15. Quite an adventure for two so young…It’s experiences like these that build confidence and capability. These challenges are so lacking for our children today.

  2. This is a post from FB:

    From Kate Erickson Zamarchi

    “Love the blog this week Joanna! The theme of many of my Mandala workshops is “Nature As Healer” – what you wrote so resonates with that. Thank you.”

    You can see Kate’s website for Spiral Intentions in the blog roll. Kate is from Portsmouth, NH.

  3. This came via email from our Vermont buddy, Marian:

    “ABSOLUTELY…..that was my mantra with my kids also…and they are both very thankful I didn’t let them live in video game land, computer land or tv land…
    I could cry when I see kids that have no concept of the great outdoors, and think bugs are gross instead of a part of the world of nature.
    My daughter, Alicia, worked in a school last year in Atlanta,Ga. that didn’t even have a recess…..I was shocked. And we wonder why the population is bursting at the seams.
    SO EVERYONE…GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY, RIGHT NOW. I can smell those lily of the valley now, one of my favorite. I have lilacs that bloomed May 1st…very early here but I am taking this wonderful spring as a well deserved gift. Thank you for this wonderful spring we are very grateful, I gotta go outside and play, take care Love and light, Marian”

    From Joanna: Thanks so much Marian! I hope Alicia can bring her present school into her consciousness of the importance of recess. There’s so much evidence about how playing outside is good for developing brains. Recess needs to be expanded, not eliminated. Love and blessings! Joanna

  4. This came via email from Ed Leibel of PA:

    Thanks Joanna for the reminder, Just told Sara to go out and play.

    Namaste` Ed! It goes for adults too. How about a game of catch, or does Sara throw too hard for you? Love and blessings!

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