Playing outside is hard work! Children are actively moving and thinking, linking body and brain as they build new understandings of their world and how to get along with the other people in it. Nervous and sensory sytems can get overloaded and need time to rest and reset. Did you know that, given the space and time, children will take their own time-outs?
In the expanse of the natural setting, with unstructured time, I’ve watched children spontaneously pause and step away from the action. They find in some element of the landscape and its living things an invitation to stillness, to mindfulness, to focus:
A child settles on branches angled just so to support resting head on hands in silence.
As he marvels at a dragonfly that found his leg to be a resting place, a child stills and his attention sharpens.
Boulders bordering a pond call a child to scamper from one to the next, requiring deep concentration to balance the body and thus focus the mind.
In the curve of a tree base, a child finds a nook that cradles her body and gives solace to help her recover from a slight.
In these moments, children center and calm themselves, tune out distractions, and turn their minds inward. This is emotional self-regulation, and children are learning how to do it just by listening to themselves and taking advantage of what nature offers. With practice, children may be able to recall and recover these moments in other settings, when things get to be “too much.” I’ve seen it happen! The more opportuntities children get to play in nature, the more chances they get to find their peace.