21 June 2012 a post by Matt Freer

Lessons from a ‘Poor old Billy’ tree

“Poor old Billy tree,” yelled my daughter as she enthusiastically pointed to a Willow tree across the river.

It all started when my 3 year old daughter started watching the classic 1980’s TV version of The Wind and the Willows. In one episode Billy, one of the little mischievous field mice, gets swept down river in a flood and Ratty and Mole rescue ‘poor old Billy’ as he clings to the branches of a Willow. A few weeks passed and we were out as a family walking along our local river when my daughter excitedly pointed at a Willow and identified it as a ‘poor old Billy tree’.

willow trees growing by the river in oxford

Leaving aside the fact that she had self identified a tree species, the wonderful thing was that my daughter was awed at the wonder of seeing something in real life that she had until then only seen on a screen. Her love of nature had begun…

Many of us will recall significant moments when something that amazed us affected our spiritual journey. Wonder and awe are often sources for our spiritual growth – and often stem from our relationship with nature. Something deep within seems to tell us that a connection with nature is important for health, mind and soul.

Yet research tells us that children are spending less time playing outdoors and in wild places – and with that must come implications for the spiritual development of our children? Are children missing opportunities for the sense of awe and wonder that is so important to spiritual growth? Does the solstice and summer season offer an opportunity to nurture a love of nature with our children? It doesn’t require big trips away. Research shows that it is not just the vast beauty of nature - majestic mountains, wild forests, vast sea views – that amaze children - but also far more ordinary natural surroundings, like our gardens.

Finding ways to make a child-like approach to nature can be really simple – but it does require something of us adults. It requires parents that are connected too. Children recognise hypocrisy – so it is no good espousing the benefits of connecting with nature if we adults don’t share it. If we hadn’t been on a walk along the river my daughter wouldn’t have seen a ‘poor old Billy tree’.

nature table activity for children

It also requires encouragement. I have no doubt that unless we had encouraged my daughter’s identification on subsequent walks, it would have been a moment passed and forgotten. Listening to, and affirming, a child’s imagination and sense of wonder is crucial. Rituals and rhythms that connect daily life and our homes with nature are important too – and a nature table (a simple place at home where you can keep and share treasures collected from nature) is a great aid for that.

We’ve put together a few simple activities to do with children at www.aeker.com. Feel free to try them out this summer.

May the summer holidays rise to meet you and your children in awe and wonder, and may you, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, have as your goal, “…to live life in radical amazement, to look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.  Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed.”

 

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