Urban by nature - a recent documentary aired on CBC radio's The Current talked about how the exposure to nature affects our cognitive, physiological and psychological processes. Spending time in a forest is optimum, but even walking time in a park or having a tree to view outside your window, can do wonders for brain development and general health and well-being. The second part to this study shows that living in urban areas devoid of green spaces actually undermines our mental processes, health and so forth.
We've written on this blog before about the book Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. This book discusses how the current generation of children are growing up with fewer opportunities to interact with nature, be it in their own back yards, parks, camping, hiking, or other wild spaces. One movement that is springing up to counteract this trend is the Forest Kindergarten. The idea is to use nature are your "classroom", having young children explore and learn outdoors with as much exposure to wild spaces, imaginative play, and understanding of our place within nature. There are various groups that have started around the globe (often aligned with Waldorf-inspired education), many in Europe but also at least one that we've come across here in Canada - near Ottawa the first Canadian forest preschool was launched in 2008 on a 190 acre property in the Ottawa Valley. Read more about the exciting Carp Ridge Forest Preschool here.
Locally we've just begun our own group, not as formal or organized as a daily forest kindergarten, but meeting once a week with our youngsters to adventure/explore/play in nature together. At this point we are exploring local green spaces, hiking trails and parks (as we would prefer not to drive to have to get out to our "nature walk"!), as well as gathering items on our rambles to build into fairy houses (like the one pictured below), nature crafting, etc.