The Sixth Sense: Do Children Have a Stronger Connection to Each Other Outdoors?

This is an article I stumbled across by Martin LeBlanc on…I thought it was a very sweet sentiment, it made me smile.

The Sixth Sense: Do Children Have a Stronger Connection to Each Other Outdoors?

Tracking the Movement to Connect People and Nature

Our Family just returned from an amazing trip to Europe. The trip marked our daughter Amelie’s fifth and sixth countries visited (Italy and France) before her first 15 months on planet earth. We know she may not be happy about that when she hits the adolescent years and we may not be able to take such grand adventures, but for now we explore!

Our main reason for going to Europe was to introduce Amelie to some of our close friends’ young children who are around the same age. We stayed with close friends in a rented villa on the shores of Lake Garda in Northern Italy in the Lakes Region. The area was truly sublime, with limestone cliffs and beautiful deep blue water. We did not have much of an agenda as we were dealing with three children from age 4 down to to four months, so we knew who the bosses would be throughout the trip. As I now look back and reflect on this adventure, I have some interesting observations as well as questions about whether or not children connect better with each other when they are outdoors.

Richard Louv has stated in his excellent new book The Nature Principle that we may have more senses than the common assumed number of five. Louv outlines a sixth sense, “which to some this means intuition, to others extraordinary perception, and still to others the uncommon ability to unconsciously detect danger”. I watched how Amelie consistently wanted to be outdoors at all times and how her behavior and interaction with others, especially other children, as well as her general mood, changed drastically when she was outside. Most importantly, in my mind, was how much she wanted us, and especially the other children, to engage in nature play with her when she was outside. Could nature connect us to each other through a sixth sense?

Some of the examples I saw of Amelie’s engagement with other children when she was outdoors were stark. Every morning in Italy we would eat a nice leisurely breakfast with the door open to a garden. It was bit chilly and with a four-month old with all of us we would eat inside. Every day, when we sat Amelie down, she would crawl directly to the garden, even though there were countless toys around and indoor rooms to explore. Each day she would get outside as quickly as possible, to get into the garden and play with the plants and surrounding fauna.

Within a couple minutes she would make a cry, which we normally perceive as a need for a bottle, food or attention. But as we would come out she did not want us to play but instead would cry until our friends’ four-year old daughter Jale would join us. At that point Amelie would always grab something from the garden and show it to Jale and want her to play with it as well. What I found fascinating about this was that may times Jale, when indoors, would bore of the younger Amelie and take out an ipad and play games. By contrast, each time she was outside, she would give attention to Amelie and play with her, seeming content to teach her about the different plants.

This sixth sense became more apparent to me after we left Italy and went to Paris. We stayed at an urban hotel, which did not have an outdoor place to play. Our friends from London met us and brought their 17-month old Xavier and, when at the hotel and in the room, the children showed no inclination to engage or spend time together. On our first outing together to the Luxemburg Gardens, the kids were left to play in an open natural space and, within two minutes, they were standing next to each other and grabbing the trees and handing leaves to each other. This engagement continued every time we were outside in a natural area in Paris but would stop once we were back in our rooms, as they would retreat to separate corners. This experience of watching Amelie not only showing a strong inclination to want to be outside but also to engage other children in her natural play made me think back to my own experiences in how critical natural play has been in connecting me with friends.

The sixth sense may be hard to maintain in a world of technological connections. But this sixth sense is there to remind us of the need to have a connection to the natural world and to give us the perspective we all need on the important role nature plays in our lives every day. In  The Nature Principle, Louv gives some excellent examples of indigenous tribes in India sensing the Tsunami of 2008, and of the U.S Military finding that soldiers who have a hunting or wilderness background may perform better in combat. Is this sixth sense also an inherent factor in children and, for the matter, all of us determining where we spend our time and the quality of connections we have with others? I hope it is, as it gives us an opportunity to build stronger and more naturally connected communities in the future.

As I look through all the pictures of our European adventure, I have taken notice on the amount of smiles on Amelie, Jale and Xavier’s faces when they were outside. I am learning as a new father that my daughter is teaching me so much about life every day, Perhaps she is even teaching me more about an area that I thought I knew well. In order to overcome nature-deficit disorder we may want to follow our children into the outdoors so we can connect more strongly with them, others and ourselves in our community.

Note: This column originally ran in the North Face‘s Planet Explore.

via The Sixth Sense: Do Children Have a Stronger Connection to Each Other Outdoors?.


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