I was exploring the wood with a 7 year old girl who wanted to find a place to build a den. Her 4 year old brother wanted to come along too so the three of us wandered around inspecting various places for suitability. The girl led the way, I came second, and her brother followed behind. She decided that the first place we came to had too many prickly branches. The second didn't have enough room. The third was too open. In other words, we were struggling to find a good location.
After a good 20-30 minutes we finally reached a small clearing under a pine tree which was enclosed by hazel coppices. The fallen pine needles made a soft carpet beneath our feet and the hazel provided natural 'walls' which made it feel nice and cozy. We were far enough away from the main base camp to feel secluded, but close enough that we could get back quick if we needed to. It seemed the perfect spot to me. However, by this point, the girl had lost interest in building a den and decided to run off to play a game with the other children who were running around the woods.
Her younger brother started to follow her (as younger siblings tend to do) and it seemed all former inspiration for building a den had vanished. However, as the boy reached the edge of the clearing he suddenly stopped and lingered there (his sister had run off by now). Then he said something that took me slightly off guard. He simply stated softly, “It's peaceful here.” He didn’t look at me when he said it, it was almost as if he was saying it more to himself than to me. I asked gently, “How do you know it's peaceful?” He quickly replied, “It's quiet.” A few moments passed and he still stood there. I asked him, “How do you feel being here?” He smiled, looked at me and said, “Actually, let's stay here!” He turned around and walked back towards the pine tree. I followed and we both sat down in the pine needles just to have a few moments sitting amongst the trees.
Now, I could take this opportunity to tout the benefits of spending time in nature for mental health and wellbeing. I could claim it's just so good a four year old can even sense it! But I'm not going to do that. Rather, I wish to reflect on how well this four year old was able to tune in to his surroundings despite the distractions of other children playing nearby and the desire to follow his sister. He was able to recognise how a location triggered a feeling of peace inside him and then he proactively chose to remain in that location because it made him feel good. I suppose it's practicing a form of mindfulness – where we tune in to our environment, take note of how we feel (good or bad) and adjust our thoughts/actions to ensure we are looking after what serves us. Personally, I find that inspiring...
Note: If you are interested in research on the effects of nature on health and wellbeing, check out this excellent resource: Children & Nature Network Research Library.