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Can Children Enjoy Forest Bathing?

On a sunny summer day in 2021, I led a group of children beside the Animas river in Durango Colorado. When the children were seated with their eyes closed, I asked them a series of questions meant to tune them into their senses:

“Bring your attention to the skin; what do you feel? See if you can amplify your hearing to find a sound that’s far away? Can you hear a sound that’s nearby? Are there any tastes being offered to you by the forest today? Before we open our eyes, let’s use our imaginal sense to imagine whatever we see when we open our eyes is as if we are seeing for the first time.

When you explore nature with kids, so many usual things become magical.

In my opinion children are naturals at forest bathing — there is much we can learn about the practice from observing children in nature. At the heart of the practice of forest bathing is playfulness, curiosity, and wonder. There are many opportunities to combine the powerfully embodying sensory invitations that we learned in becoming certified Nature & Forest Therapy Guides with the inquisitive nature of children.

Having had the pleasure of facilitating nature exploration with young people with various organizations for over six years, I was excited to share my newly-learned skills of guiding forest bathing walks with them. Having learned the standard sequence from the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, I was eager to adapt it to meet the needs of a local daycare that wanted to work with me. This daycare was very special as they encouraged its participants to ride bikes and spend time in parks, so it was easy for me to fit in to their programing by meeting the youth and their caregivers at a park of my choosing. We had decided to dedicate an hour for my guiding and I found it so fun to explore the parks I had chosen and see what beings were there that were inviting us to play on our walks.

There were different groups ages five to seven and eight to eleven. I would guide one group at a time, but during the last walk needed to guide both at the same time.

One of my take-aways while leading the walks was about my nature sketching invitation where I folded a few note cards over and stapled them in the middle to create a little journal. I invited the participants to draw a plant in the botanical garden we were in or reflect on how they were feeling and write or sketch something that caught their attention in the garden. It was a little more challenging for the younger group as they are still learning to read and write, but all of them did give it a try and I found that because the invitation was so open that they could adapt it however they pleased. So being open and flexible when leading walks with kids is supremely helpful in accomplishing the main goal of opening the doors to an embodied and present nature experiences.

The sharing circles were the best, and I definitely learned some things to try for the future. The younger kids are very eager to practice sharing and just need to be reminded of the expectations of sharing circle such as listening to our neighbors. A great opportunity to learn and practice such a valuable life skill. The imaginations of the youth are unparalleled and will notice the opportunity to share all about their life experiences during the “what I’m noticing” sharing prompt if given the chance. Next time when working with a bigger group with lots of shares, I want to have them turn to their neighbor and share with them what they are noticing at that moment, after the invitation, as this will help with time.

A big excitement for the kids was the daily new wild-crafted tea and snacks that I brought. They would often ask during the walk what’s todays tea? They really appreciated the gesture of offering a little tea to the earth as a sign of respect and would ask if they could pour some of their tea to say thank you too. We even had a gentle deer sit close by us during our tea ceremony.

I was most surprised with how well the pleasure of presence activity was received. Pleasure of presence being when we close our eyes and tune into our senses and what we are seeing, touching, tasting, feeling, and even our imaginal sense. I thought this might be a struggle for the kids to be still, but they really seemed to enjoy it. I only needed to remind them that when I ask a question about what the closest sound they can hear that they can answer in their heads, not out loud, as not to disturb their neighbors experience. This is the sort of thing you learn to remind them of as when leading a group of adults this is just the norm.

I had one of the young participants say “you know, I used to not like nature so much, but I changed my mind”.

The enthusiasm for nature and the longing for adventure is very palpable in youth and something I can relate to. As long as you are clear about the expectations of the walk, why it is important, and that nature is there for them whenever they feel uneasy or scared or even when they feel good, I think we as guides are helping them practice the coping mechanisms that will support them through life.

There is so much value to unstructured time in nature, striving to offer these opportunities to young people is very satisfying work. I always felt uplifted by allowing time for participants to explore and discover with an open agenda how they can use their imaginations outdoors.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” —Albert Einstein.

It can be stressful being a kid sometimes an escape is needed every now and then. To have the expectations lifted and just allow them to be. A change of environment, a safe place that soothes is so very crucial to children’s and adults’ overall well-being.

This retreat to nature may be so potent because forest bathing essentially combines the benefits of meditation with the benefits of being outside in nature. For example, forest bathing and meditation are both mindfulness practices that help you become fully engaged in the present moment. Studies show1 that practicing mindfulness can boost memory and focus, promote empathy, reduce stress2, and improve attention and behavior in school settings3.

But traditional meditation can be difficult, especially for younger kids who have trouble being still. Forest bathing invitations pull us into the present moment without needing to be still. This helps children become more aware of their bodies. As they learn to be aware of how their body feels, they start to identify how their bodies react to emotions as well. It’s a valuable strategy to self-soothe and manage stress.

A beginner’s guide.

Here are a few tips to get you started to try forest bathing with your children:

Be flexible. Simplify practices into five to fifteen minute breaks that guides can do with children throughout the day. It’s not always realistic to do an hour-long forest-bathing walk with kids. Shortening the amount of time you focus on a forest bathing invitation is one way to keep it loose, particularly for younger children. Giving them permission to talk and move around, regardless of the activity, is another way to be more flexible.

We call the activities “invitations” because you’re always welcome to adapt them — kids need freedom to make decisions for themselves.

Draw thoughts to the sensory experience. Using your senses is all about noticing your surroundings, being alert, and being present—things that meditation practice helps you with too.

When you’re listening for all the nature sounds you can hear, you’re focused on something that’s not the chatter in your own head.

Ask questions that encourage children to focus on their senses. What does the ground feel like? What colors do you see? What do the pine needles smell like?

Turn it into a game. These invitations help provide a fun, loose structure that encourages children to be more mindful of their natural surroundings: perhaps calling them games will be a word that resonates more with them instead of the word invitation.

The texture mandala game is fun, almost like a treasure hunt to gather a few different textures in nature and then take turns placing your items in the center however seems most satisfying to your group as a collective art piece. Then taking time to find a new home in nature for the items they collected.

In the What’s in Motion game, ask kids to walk very slowly and notice what’s in motion while they’re in motion. Often they’ll notice big movements like birds, then smaller ones like ants and sometimes they notice the motion inside themselves.

In the camera game, one kid is the photographer and the other is the camera. The “camera” closes his or her eyes, and the photographer carefully guides him or her to a natural scene like a tree trunk or something the photographer finds interesting. When the photographer signals, the camera opens his or her eyes and captures as much detail of the scene as possible. Depending on the age of your child, encourage them to write about or draw what they see or even chose a pose they can take that represents how what they see makes them feel.

Lie on your back, watch the clouds float by and see what shapes and images you see.

For a rainy-day activity sitting by an open window and listening to the rain for a few minutes. Then have kids draw a picture of how they feel.

If you’d like to learn more about leading children in a forest bathing walk and you already went through the main certification, check out the professional development course forest therapy guiding for children and youth designed for Forest Therapy Guides interested in exploring the nuances of guiding Forest Therapy experiences for children, youth and multi-generations. The purpose is to build headroom in the area of guiding for all ages and / or a specific age group that you would like to guide in the practice of Forest Therapy.

Happy guiding!




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