Most of us know intuitively that Nature is good for us; just being in Nature can give us an emotional lift and a walk in the park can calm and restore us. This is something historically we have taken for granted in parks and recreation because we have known it to be true ever since we started spending time in Nature.
Recent research reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine provides scientific proof that walking in Nature and spending time under the leafy shade of trees causes electrochemical changes in the brain that can lead people to enter into a highly beneficial state of “effortless attention”.
The researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh state that “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire, with positive benefits to physical and intellectual activities, and to social and psychological resources.”
This mental benefit - happiness - occurs in individuals who are engaged in play, exploration, or other discovery type activities.
One interesting aspect of this research is how it confirms a theory concerning the ‘soft fascination’ of Nature. In The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective,researchers Stephen and Rachel Kaplan deconstruct what they call ‘the restorative experience’ – of being lifted outof a state of mental fatigue, which is most often accomplished by ‘getting away’ or ‘escaping’ from stressful environments and situations.
In the process of escaping from mental fatigue, there are certain types of restorative experiences that seem to transcend others and produce multiple benefits – one of which is the ‘fascination’ that occurs when an individual is immersed in Nature. Entering the state of effortless attention can occur in a variety of ways – walking in the woods, hiking along a trail in a totally natural environment, or sitting by a stream watching water tumble over rocks.
The experience of being in Nature is transformative in and of itself; it can cause our emotional state to be uplifted and good mental balance to be restored. Being in Nature is truly refreshing in a deep, meaningful way
When we enter a green space of natural light and shadows containing the colours of Nature, we can also enter a particularly reflective mode during which we can comprehend more than one thing at a time, a state in which stresses and pressures are reduced. We are able to enjoy multiple sensory stimuli and perceptions even when we are thinking about other things.
All in all, being in Nature can provide a fully restorative experience – a walk in the park may be the most beneficial thing we can do for our mental and physical health.
Before we head back to school it's a good time to help children examine their relationships with their peers.
There is so much that children have missed over the lock down period, but many were happy to skip the BFE, 'tween' and 'teen' dramas.
The physical and emotional distance from their friends has allowed children to reflect on which of their friendships they wish to take with them and which they wish to leave behind in the new school year.
We can ask our children what friendship really means to them - which three words come to mind? Whether you ask this to a group of children, or your own child, it allows children to come up with descriptors such as, 'kind', 'loyal', 'trustworthy' or 'stands up for you'. Ask, "When you think of your three best friends do they have these qualities?"
This type of question enables children to pay attention to their gut feelings - feelings that emerge as a kind of summary of their experiences and expectations that might otherwise be hard to put into words.
When children become mindful of how they feel, think and act when they are with specific people they learn to trust themselves. Focusing on other children's positive traits helps them to discern who adds value to their life rather than fixating on who steals their joy.
Practising curiosity and pulling back from judgement keeps adults connected with children, without making children feel that we are criticising their choices; we have to allow them to make their own decisions.
Offering children compassion and empathy through their experiences keeps you connected and helps children to work through their feelings.
There will be positive and negative consequences from the social isolation that children and families have experienced during lock down, but there are also opportunities for growth that we can carry forward into our 'new normal'.
MEfA Montessori School is planning to reopen in September 2020 and, for the majority of our children, this will be after an absence of six months.
We understand that when we do reopen some of our adults and children will be nervous. Many of our children have enjoyed their time at home with their parents and siblings - but others have become edgy and anxious.
We have been blessed with a lovely sunny Spring and early Summer and many of us have spent a lot more time in nature than we have been able to do before.
Many families have sent us photos and videos of their children indoors baking, crafting and constructing - and outdoors cycling, gardening and enjoying nature walks.
During the lock-down, I have spent most afternoons nurturing our beautiful Forest School/Well-being Area and I can testify to the benefits of gardening for mental, physical and emotional well-being.
In the early weeks back at school children (and adults) will be tired, and as any parent knows, this can result in irascible behaviour.
We will be sharing risk assessments and protocols with the whole school community which will bring comfort to those who may be worried about the transmission of infection.
Although the UK international travel restrictions are gradually reopening, we still have families who have been 'stranded' abroad for almost four months. These families will face additional challenges as and when they are able to return.
All of this will bring challenges, but we are totally focussed on making the return to school for our children and adults a truly nurturing experience.
Soon we will be bringing the 2019-2020 school year to a close; do please keep sending us your family news and photos!
Tuesday March 17th was a tearful day for our parents and teachers alike. We decided to close our beautiful MEfA Montessori School, days ahead of Government guidance for all schools to close, because of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.