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I love living in Oregon, where nature abounds everywhere you turn. It’s a fantastic place to be raising our two little ones, because it takes very little effort to get them in a situation where they can be outside communing with nature, freely exploring, and getting all of the amazing benefits that being outdoors has to offer.
One of my favorite benefits that children receive by spending time in nature is that it teaches them compassion.
Studies have shown that when children spend time freely playing in nature and are given the chance to explore at their own pace, they develop understanding and compassion for others and the world around them.
The greatest thing is that this is true regardless of whether they’re playing alone or with someone else. Yes, when a child is outdoors freely exploring nature they are actually learning how to interact and care for another person even if they’re outdoors alone. Isn’t that awesome?!
This compassion extends not only to the natural world, but also to other people (including strangers) and a general compassion for all living things around them.
Last week we went on one of our many family bike rides through the park near our house. There’s a small reservoir / duck pond that my children love to visit and watch the various creatures going about their lives. Right now is the time of year when many birds have laid their eggs and are settled in on their nests. Because of this observation, my oldest son has developed a keen interest in bird life and bird watching.
We were walking around the border of this little pond and he was leading the way. There was a male goose swimming around in the pond next to us. What we didn’t realize was that he was carefully watching over the momma bird who was sitting on her nest just a few feet away! Charlie was walking in front and all of a sudden we turned a corner and he was standing an arm’s length away from the mother goose sitting on her nest!
As soon as he took that step, the daddy goose hopped up out of the water and started towards Charlie, biting at his legs and feet. Now keep in mind that Canadian geese are very large – so imagine my 4-year old Charlie standing there with a very upset male goose that’s pretty much as tall as him confronting him aggressively. In any normal circumstances any child (and even many adults) would be very frightened. I’ll admit that even for a moment I thought he was going to push Charlie into the water or start attacking his face.
But, because of the amount of time and energy that Charlie has put into spending time in nature and learning about these creatures, he knew exactly what was going on. So he calmly put his hands in the air and took a step back and said, “Okay Daddy, I know you’re just protecting your nest. It’s okay. I’ll leave… I’ll leave.” Then he looked up at me and said, “Mommy I’m going to walk around on the other side and I’ll meet you.”
I was absolutely amazed at how compassionately he handled the situation. There was no fear, no sadness, only understanding and compassion for another. I am 100% sure that he was able to handle this situation so well because of the nature-inspired learning that is a part of his everyday life. And not only does this compassion extend to the creatures that he’s learning about, but also to plant life (he’s very protective of his garden), to strangers that he meets (he loves helping his daddy with his non-profit outreach for the unhoused in our community), and to those that are close to him.
Even in our moments of sibling rivalry, simply going outside and being with nature helps to bury all of those differences, and turns my boys into the bestest of friends in an instant.
There’s so much that we can all learn from nature, but I really feel that compassion for another is one of the greatest.
So the next time you find yourself frustrated with a personal situation, or the kids are at each other’s throats, or you and your partner are at a crossroads, take a breath and go outside and just learn compassion.
I’ll see you outside