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VITAMIN N FOR THE SOUL: 10 Ways Faith-Based Organizations Can Connect Children, Families and Communities to the Natural World

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of nine books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." His newest book, "Vitamin N," offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

people in woods by rich horizontal
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“We are not God. The Earth was here before us and was given to us.” – Pope Francis

My youngest son once asked me if a connection to a higher power is, in fact, an underutilized sense – one that some people find activated in nature. This is the same son who, when he was five, asked me, “Are God and Mother Nature married, or just good friends?” Good questions.

I shared those thoughts in The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods. Since the publication of those books, I’ve been surprised and impressed by the support that many religious leaders of all faiths, and non-believers as well, have offered to the movement to connect people to the natural world. I’ve come to believe that smart spiritual people intuitively understand that all spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and that sense is usually formed early in childhood, often in natural settings.

Most religious traditions, especially in indigenous cultures, intimate or actively offer ways to discover the divine in the natural world. Which leads me to the next point: Faith-based communities, and religious organizations could play a much larger role in helping children and adults know the world, and beyond, through nature. In a forthcoming book, Vitamin N, I offer 500 actions that individuals, families and organizations can take.

Here are a few of the ways that places of worship can realize their potential to reduce nature-deficit disorder and make gentle the life of the world:

  1. In sermons and in practice, religious leaders can explore the spiritual value of connecting children to nature. Greenfaith offers curricula and other resources for Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist teachings on the environment. Teach mindfulness (rooted in Buddhism, but not restricted to it) toward the creation, including human beings.
  1. Religious organizations, already major sponsors of early childhood education, can dramatically increase the availability of nature-based preschools and childcare centers. Greenhearts is a good source of information on nature-based early childhood education, including its guide to 25 Easy Nature Play Ideas for Early Childhood Centers.
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    Support your local nature camp. Church camps and nature retreats have a long tradition of connecting kids to nature, but many have been eliminated or reduced in recent years by budget cuts and land sales. Place more emphasis on the nature connection at existing camps, and create new ones, including interfaith camps for children of all backgrounds and spiritual traditions. The American Camp Association offers tips and information on how to preserve or create new ones.
  1. Places of worship can promote family nature clubs and organize other outdoor activities for families. Nationally, the Christian Hiking Network and the Muslim Outdoor Camping and Hiking Association organize such outings. They also connect people within and among neighborhoods by forming nature-networks.
  1. On their grounds or other properties, faith-based centers can adapt some of the tools and techniques of the green schoolyards movement (see C&NN’s Green Schoolyards for Health Communities initiative) and help transform the landscapes and waters of their own communities.
  1. Help create butterfly and bird zones in your community, by planting native plants that help bring back migration routes, and encouraging families to transform parts or all of their yards into places for native species. Doug Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home,” is a good primer on why this is vital to biodiversity, and how to do it.
  1. Join other faith-based organizations and groups to help create a Homegrown National Park. Encourage people to organize neighborhoods, cities and eventually the country into what would essentially be biodiversity-building corridors – ones that not only increase biodiversity but also nurture human health. Think of the power that children and families would feel if they were part of the literal re-greening of a nation? And why stop at our borders? Why not join with others around the world to create a Worldwide Homegrown Park?
  1. Help create a regional campaign to connect kids to nature, or support existing ones. Places of worship can serve as conveners of such campaigns, bringing together pediatricians, teachers, mayors, conservation groups, businesses and other faith-based organizations. Such networks can pool their resources help children experience nature where they live, work, learn and play. The Children & Nature Network offers guides for creating local campaigns, and a directory of regional efforts worldwide.
  1. Many religious leaders believe it’s time to move beyond the division, in Biblical interpretation, between dominion and stewardship. They say: Of course we have dominion; look what we’re doing to the Earth — but why would we want to trash God’s creation? Many congregations, conservative or liberal, are involving children, families and individuals in conservation work locally and globally. The Blessed Tomorrow coalition, launched in 2014 by ecoAmerica’s Momentus initiative, brings together representatives from a broad range of faith traditions to work on climate change. Congregations are invited to sign a commitment“to walk more gently on the earth and to inspire others to lead on climate in their homes, places of worship, and communities.” We don’t have to agree on the particulars, but we can join together to heal our home.
  1. Places of worship can take a leading role in advocating for the human right of all children to connect to nature, regardless of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, economic level, abilities or disabilities, or religion. Around the world, an expanding body of scientific evidence links experience in the natural world to better physical and mental health and enhanced cognitive abilities. To that list, we can add the life of the spirit. All children, not just a few, deserve the natural gifts of the creation.

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Richard Louv 
is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. His ninth book, VITAMIN N, will be published in 2016. He is currently working on his tenth book, about the evolving relationship between humans and other animals. Follow Rich on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter

Photos by R.L.

More reading

RADICAL AMAZEMENT: Nature and the Spiritual Life of Children

Have Our Children Forgotten How to Play Outdoors? Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Reconnecting to Our Earth-Base Roots: Teshuva for Our Generation: Wilderness Torah

Richard Louv and Tu B’Shvat or It is not Jewish to Stay Inside

No child left inside on the Holy Earth

Doing What Used to Come Naturally: Getting Kids to Play Outside, Catholic News Service

Remedying Nature-Deficit Disorder: National Catholic Reports

Discovering an Environmental Faith: Unbound, the online journal of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

 

 

5 Comments

  1. A Rocha is an international environmental organization with a Christian ethos. A Rocha, which means “the rock” in Portuguese, was founded in Portugal in 1983 by Anglican minister Peter Harris and his wife Miranda. It is completely interdenominational, governed by a Board of Trustees with wide qualifications in life sciences, relief and development.
    A Rocha is building a network of hands-on conservation projects in communities across the nation. Driven by local context, local needs and local leadership, the exact focus of each A Rocha project varies – ranging from gardens and farms, to watershed protection and habitat restoration. Whatever the focus, each project involves research, education and hands-on opportunities for people to get involved in environmental conservation.

    In the far NW corner of Washington State, A Rocha is partnering with local conservation organizations, agencies, churches and community groups to care for watersheds, strengthen local food systems and protect habitats and species. Projects include Five Loaves Farm, a community garden that provides healthy, organic produce to people in need, at the same time as offering an opportunity for others to learn how to grow food in their own gardens.
    Comment

    Reply
    • Richard Louv

      Thanks so much for reminding us of this great resource.

      Reply
  2. The visual that accompanies this article is riveting, to say the least. Is this your image, Richard?
    I love how the overhanging tree on the left, the white sand below and the green foliage sweeping up on the right combine to create a ‘natural amphitheater’ for the 2 figures in the scene. Not only that, but it’s as if the lower section of branch on the overhanging tree is extending an invitation of connectedness to the pair.
    Is this a photograph that has been digitally enhanced to produce its painterly appearance? Or is this in fact a painting? If it is the latter, what medium was utilized?
    It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. THIS picture takes that colloquialism one step further: I can’t even find the words, however many, to describe its visual and emotional impact.
    Contemplatively,
    PhiL {‘•_•’}

    Reply
    • Richard Louv

      Thanks, Philip. Yes, I took the photo, but my camera (a Sony RX-100) deserves the credit for the special effect.

      Reply
  3. Tell you what, Richard:
    That nifty ‘special effect’ abstracts the original scene magnificently…..
    Not enough to eliminate the realism – we still know what we are looking at – but just enough to convey the theme of universality.
    Because we cannot recognize the two figures basking in the majesty of God’s great outdoors, we’re free to conclude: “That could be ME there!” or “That could be US there!”
    A stunning visual is still capable of dropping a viewer’s guard and getting under his/her defences.
    Your photograph is proof positive of that.
    Yours in the Keeper of the Fire and the Wind,
    PhiL {‘•_•’}

    Reply

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