It is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the theme is Nature; an important one when it has become such a big part of our lives over the past year.
It has been the year of the walk; getting outside has helped us all to survive the limitations suddenly placed on our lives. When open, children’s parks were heaving and fields full of outdoor exercisers. Mountains of disposable coffee cups and pairs of people walking with a 2 meter distance between them.
So in many ways the limitations placed upon us have brought us back to nature. We were given permission to choose the simple life as opposed to the popular person made options such as shopping, pubs, restaurants and soft play. We were forced to get back in touch with our old friend; and yes it really is a friend. Nature does so much more than provide our beautiful backdrop, it provides the equilibrium that enables our species to survive. Being in natural light is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing. Our current lifestyles mean that around half of us could be suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency*. Engaging with nature can help with depression and anxiety while exercising outside can recharge, energise and revitalise those with low mood.
So as we are slowly given back our freedom (and all the person made stuff that comes with it), let’s maintain the relationship we have built so carefully and allow nature back into our lives for good.
It is vital that we are introducing children to the complexities and wonder of nature and we can do this in many ways:
Getting out there, being in it; walking, running, scooting, climbing, collecting, touching, smelling, hearing.
Talking about the nature around us, locally and worldwide.
Bringing nature into our home - house plants, growing vegetables etc.
And last but not least...
Build an understanding of nature and developing empathy through story.
Eric Carle is the master of nature for children. In his books (and he has over 70!) Carle covers everything from animals showing off their crafts such as spinning webs and carrying their babies eventually taking us right up to the moon and back. Apart from recommending all of Eric Carle's wondrous stories to get your children into nature here are a few others I think are some great stories all about the wonder that is nature.
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
This book takes us on a journey from seed through to fully grown flower. It teaches children how living things survive and flourish and shows what kinds of conditions make growing difficult. As always the illustrations are captivating for adults and children alike.
Zilya’s Secret Plan by Ulrich Schaffer
Zilya is a small child looking for big change (the Greta of the 70’s). Her opinion that something needs to be done is laughed off by the mayor who states “go away little girl, can’t you see I’m busy?" It’s a simple tale of a child understanding the need to show care and concern for the nature around her.
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker
A story set in North Queensland, Australia, about the predicament of losing forest to modern life. The author overlaps images to show past, present and future versions of the areas. It's a wonderful way to show children how time can change things and what we are trying to prevent.
Lila and the Secret of Rain by David Conway and Jude Daly
This book conveys the power of nature and our reaction to it. Set in a Kenyan village whose residents are struggling through a long drought. Lila needs to bring the rain by telling the sky the saddest thing she knows, which turns out to be the drought itself. The pictures are so beautiful and the story shows how one person's actions can make change affecting all around them.
Peppa Pig - Peppa Loves Our Planet
My children love this book and although I do tend to secretly roll my eyes when they bring any Peppa Pig book my way, this is one I can forgive. I love the positive, happy pictures, the uncomplicated message and strategies they offer to children to take care of their planet. It's simple, proactive and fun.
Can You Find Me? by Gordon Winch
Also set in Australia this book hides lots of Australian animals within their habitats. A lovely book to share with your little ones, playing games to see who can find the animal and also talk about the nature around them.
*10 Keys to Happier Living by Vanessa King