More than ever, we need nature. It makes us and our children happier.

Whether it is trekking or canoeing, escapes into nature boosts happiness and wellbeing of both body and mind. Firstly, we are getting exercise, a proven mood booster. Secondly, we are spending quality time with loved ones, thirdly, we are in nature. All it takes is, making a modest effort. It is unfiltered adventure for the young and old alike, who get demonstratively happier.

Research shows that happiness and Nature always meet each other cordially. Much of the research on how, engaging with nature impacts eco-friendly behaviours and happiness, has been focused on adults. But in a study published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Psychology’, researchers examined the impact of a group of children’s “connectedness to nature” on their sustainable behaviours and happiness. Studies proved that babies gave up food, showing that altruism begins in infancy. This kinship with nature was defined by researchers as a “characteristic of human beings that refers to thinking and feeling emotionally connected with all the elements of the natural environment, with feeling happier, as a consequence.”

The researchers found children who felt connected to nature – feel pleasure, even when seeing wildflowers and animals, hearing sounds of nature – engaged in altruism, or actions that helped other people. These children actively cared for the environment by recycling, reusing objects and saving water and energy as a natural response. They were also more likely to say they believed in equality among sexes, races and socioeconomic conditions as they grew older. Finally, these children scored high on a happiness scale, too. Research also found that such behaviours are correlated with conduct that aids in caring for the planet during a time of environmental crisis, which sets up these children to be future custodians of nature.

Children of today, are future consumers of products, entrepreneurs, decision-makers, workers, and depending on the environmental education received, their connection with nature, environmental awareness and environmental values, are the future of the environment, too. Children need role models,who can gently guide them to nature with excitement, optimism and an attitude of a lifelong learner.

In Waldorf education, emphasises on arts, movement, imagination and building a relationship with nature is central to a child’s development. Time outdoors, teaches children about the Earth’s natural rhythms and cycles, allows them to experience natural phenomena before studying them in a classroom, and fortifies the child’s relationship with and respect for the natural world.

Throughout the grades, the relationship with nature that was built in early childhood continues through gardening, environmental education, outdoor education trips.

In December our students of grades 5 to 9 visited the Bellum caves and Gandikota, (fondly called the Grand Canyon of India) exploring the caves and enhancing their interest in the Main Lesson Blocks of Minerology and Astronomy, as they got to engage in star gazing in Gandikota. We firmly believe that these outdoor experiences build a foundation of scientific curiosity, honing observational skills, and giving children a space where there is joy and fun throughout the school years.

Nature and science in Waldorf Schools

In kindergarten and first elementary years, rich, direct experiences of nature are encouraged. Children play outside in all weathers, seeing the seasons through the changing plant life (and sometimes animal). Inside the classroom, natural materials are preferred- all toys: these include wood, stone, clay, wool, cotton and silk. The commonly used dolls are also made of natural materials and have simple expressions and allow natural postures. The emphasis is on working with the materials of nature through planting and harvesting, craft work and creative play. The first years are thus years of ‘nature experience’. At about nine years of age, children begin to become more conscious of their separation from their environment. From this age, nature is studied in an imaginative (rather than analytical) way, and still in relationship to the human being. The curriculum includes blocks on farming (grade 3), Man and animal (grade 4), Plant and Earth (grade 5) and geology (grade 6). A feeling of connection to nature is aimed for, out of which a sense of responsibility can grow.

In Grades 6, 7, 8- children are entering a new rational phase. An experimental approach to science is introduced, beginning with simple but systematic sensory explorations of phenomena of acoustics, light, mechanics and chemistry and progressing through ever more advanced Physics, Chemistry, Biological and Ecological studies.
Grade 6: Mineralogy, acoustics, optics, heat, natural magnetism and electricity.
Grade 7: Nutrition and hygiene, mechanics, acoustics, heat, optics, electricity and magnetism, chemistry.
Grade 8: Anatomy, hydrostatics and simple hydrodynamics, simple organic chemistry of starches, sugars and fats.

At the secondary school level (fourteen years of age and up), Waldorf schools tend to emphasize the historical origins, cultural background, and philosophical roots and consequences of scientific discoveries. By the end of their secondary school education, students are expected to have a grasp of modern science equivalent to that achieved in other schools.

In High school, the following is done:
Grade 9: Mechanics, Acoustics, Atom and molecules, Structure of atoms, Earth science – Plant and animal tissue, Diversity in living organism, Health and diseases.
Grade 10: Light and Electric Current, Acid base reactions, Metals and Nonmetals, Organic Chemistry, Periodic table, Life process, Reproduction in plants and animals, Genetic and evolution, Control and Coordination in animals.

Spending time in nature boosts health. And it’s not just for children. A 2015 study showed that people who take walks in nature report less repetitive negative thoughts. Maybe, doctors should give “nature prescriptions” to help treat high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and fear of the unknown.