YOUR CHILD’S GREATEST CLASSROOM: Nature’s Role in the Development of Character and Spirituality in Children

About the Author

Tolu is the Founder of Magnifying Children’s Horizons, an organization that shares knowledge and produces children’s books and parenting guides focused on the benefits of nature as one of the best character development tools for children. Tolu focuses on holistic and natural living as ways to improve diet, health, and to raise resilient and spiritual children. A mother of three, Tolu has worked with children in Africa, Europe, and North America.

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“And essentially through connecting with Nature, we learn more about who we can and should be as humans.”  Sabina Pettitt

A lot has been said about how connecting with nature encourages social and emotional intelligence, including intellectual development, in children.

Ample research and literature suggest that being in nature helps to develop the whole child. However, this emphasis on “whole child” development is not complete without discussing spiritual development.

In fact, recent research indicates a clear link between spirituality and children’s health, showing that children who feel that their lives have meaning and value and who develop deep, quality relationships— both measures of spirituality—are happier. It should be noted that spirituality refers to an inner belief system that a person relies on for strength and comfort. It differs from religiousness or institutional religious rituals, practices and beliefs.

Additional research published in the Journal of Religion and Health at Columbia University shows that happiness and positive character traits like grit and persistence go together with spirituality. The researchers found that personal spirituality, that includes a direct personal relationship with nature, or a universal presence or higher power (by any name) has a clear link to physical wellness and recovery from depression and disease. And in fact, spiritual awareness produces the same readings in brain scans as recovery due to medication.

Allowing Children to Discover Nature

Enabling children to discover who they are is the first step to solidifying an understanding of their purpose. This results in a decision-making process based on a foundation of positive character traits. Self-discovery lays the foundation for proper application of knowledge. Understanding nature and its laws allow children to discover and define their values and develop their spirituality.

girl playing in the sun
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For example, when children observe the work that goes into planting a flower, and then nature’s role in producing a meadow full of different flowers, when they experience how different a petal feels compared to the bark of a tree, they learn to respect the interrelationship of all these elements that come together to form the softness of the petal, the cragginess of the tree, and the meadow full of flowers.

They will be able to relate more to the value of the word respect when it is required of them in relation to their own daily activities, as well as those of others. Nature follows established laws. Everything physical and non-physical revolves around these laws, which applies to all things from everyday physics to complex art.

Children must first learn their parent’s language to understand and live in harmony with them. The same goes for understanding nature.

To allow children to discover nature is to enable them to learn the language of creation so they can be in harmony with themselves and with the world in which they live. This language makes itself known in the laws of nature. In nature, children observe and know of the world into which they are born, the laws under which nature functions and, subsequently, understand their place in nature. They understand the repercussions of disobeying these laws. As a natural consequence, they consciously form their values and character according to these laws.

As children start to discover themselves and their place in this beautiful world, the process of self-discovery is enhanced. Their lives will cease to be defined by external influences and be influenced by their own guidance discovered in, and taught by, nature. This translates automatically into a knowledge of genuine living which results in positive and unique contributions to the world in which they live.

The Laws of Nature and their Role in Character and Spiritual Development

The simple act of sowing a seed and harvesting the crop, when observed by children shows the “Law of Reciprocal Actions”, or “what you sow you reap.” Through an activity such as this, a child will come to understand the value of good thoughts, words, and deeds as seeds planted into creation, the harvest of which comes back to enhance their lives. 

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You plant one seed of corn and an ear of corn is harvested—“like attracts like.” A child can be guided to understand the need for planting good seeds in anticipation of a multiplication of similar seeds returning to them.

Another law by which nature functions is that of Balance—“giving and receiving.” A child guided to observe how a butterfly goes from flower to flower, taking but giving as well, will understand the concept of teamwork and importance of giving back to society, which broadens their values.

Nature allows a child time to listen within and discover their intuition. When this stage is reached, the character-building process moves from showing by the teacher, to self-discovery on the part of the child. The values then discovered become their character. Here, it’s important to note that these values can never be learned. They are discovered, and ultimately become one with the child and the ensuing adult.

Nature provides compelling experiences which enable the development of positive character traits in children. If you are on that discovery path with your child, you can use time in nature to help develop their character and find harmony and equilibrium by showing that the same laws that work in nature also work in human life and society.

The child then becomes free of dogma and religious pressures, in the conviction that the knowledge and application of nature’s laws to their life will help them to higher recognitions of creation and their Creator.

“The streams, the mountains, the forests, the meadows and the flowers, as well as the animals, will then become familiar to every child, who will be securely anchored in this realm, which is to provide the field of activity during its sojourn on earth… It will then stand quite firmly and fully conscious in Nature, in the whole world of animistic activity, full of understanding and thus well equipped and quite ready to work with its spirit… Only thus can it become a true gardener of God in Creation.” — The Grail Message, Abd-ru-shin


Additional Resources
Magnifying Children’s Horizons
CONNECTING WITH NATURE & OURSELVES: Reflections from Colorado Legacy Camp
WHAT’S NATURE? Scientists and Poets Struggle to Find the Answer, but Each of Us Must Capture the Mystery
10 Reasons Children, Adults & Communities Need Vitamin N
VITAMIN N FOR THE SOUL: 10 Ways Faith-Based Organizations Can Connect Children, Families and Communities to the Natural World
Outdoor Play Can Enhance Kids’ Spirituality
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)

Photo credit: Magnifying Children’s Horizons

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Tolu,
    Thank you for the wonderful insights. So many young people I know immediately withdraw when adults start talking about religion but remain engaged when the discussion is consciously directed a spiritual.

    I greatly appreciate your ability to draw a line between the concepts of spirituality, and religiosity without severing the necessary connection between the two.


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