From the Inside be Outside: Nature and Spiritual Development in the Early Years

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. When I taught introductory early childhood education courses, I presented developmental domains by raising my hand. One by one, I would count down the big five, cognitive, social, emotional, language and physical which I would divide into gross and fine motor. Lately, I have been wondering about other domains that are also equally important. Now I wonder whether those new to the world of early learning should also be considering the aesthetic and spiritual domains of development?

Aesthetics refers to the principles and philosophy concerned with nature and the appreciation of beauty. If we are thinking in terms of early learning, it refers to the ability to perceive through the senses, be sensitive to, and appreciate the beauty in art and nature. Mayesky (2009) describes it as “a feeling of wonder”. Rachel Carson speaks to this in her iconic book, The Sense of Wonder when she says:

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts ~ Rachel Carson

Finding reserves of strength from the beauty of the earth, aligns with spiritual development. Spirituality, like the aesthetic domain, is another important dimension of development. According to Zhang (2012), it often remains as a forgotten area of development in early childhood education. Perhaps the reason, is that it is difficult to articulate the concept of spirituality and many may confuse it with religion. However, the importance of the spiritual domain cannot be underestimated. Robbins  (2017) suggests:

A deep sense of spirituality creates recognition, within individuals, of a sacred meaning to all of life. This understanding contributes to a feeling of significance of self as well as of others. This includes a healthy view of self, a thoughtfulness, compassion, and empathy for others, and a fundamental consideration for the well-being of family and community.

Personally, and professionally, I have been thinking a lot about the spiritual domain as I have started a journey to explore ways to establish and maintain good relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities for the benefit of our youngest citizens. It is the Land that serves as the ground upon which this journey takes place. When I embarked on the path, I did not realize that I would need the journey to involve healing and recovery as I am faced with an expected health issue. Nature will provide strength and resolve. Indigenous ways of knowing will help to frame the journey as the earth is a source of life. “The earth’s health is very much connected to human health. The diversity of this connection may be expressed through intricate relationships to the land” (Robbins & Dewar, 2011, p. 3).

Research supports the role of spirituality in the early years. Louv (2008) writes “that all spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and that one of the first windows to wonder is the natural world” (p.356). We can encourage the development of the spiritual domain when we engage in our own natural curiosity. We can support this overlooked domain when we recognize that spirituality is lived in our interactions with others. Through learning both from and with each other we will be able to see evidence of spirituality in our practice (Lunn, 2015). What does it mean to be outside from the inside? I thought about the title of this blog for a long time after spending a morning with an Elder and two fire-keepers on Land that grounds me as it is close to my home and my heart. Together, with a small group of dedicated educators, we listened to stories around a fire and engaged in traditional, sacred ceremonies including a talking circle. Respecting what is sacred we did not take photos in an attempt to record and share the experience on social media. Instead, we sat there and listened, to each other, to the wind blowing through the trees and the birds chirping above. We were present. Afterwards, when walking home, a friend called the experience “spiritual literacy”. The awakening and introspection that occurred in all of us could not have taken place indoors. There is no substitute for experiences on the Land. In addition, to all the benefits of being outside, let’s not forget spirituality. To experience tranquility and have space for reflection, to make connections to the wonder of the world and each other is important to all. Our lives inside may be filled with stress and noise but when we bring children outside from the inside, the earth will provide for the spiritual domain.

Lake St. George, May 2019

If you too are interested in exploring the aesthetic and spiritual domains while learning with and from others on the Land, consider signing up for the Rhythm of Learning in Nature, an early learning nature retreat held every summer. On the shores of Lake St. George, surrounded by forests and trails we will learn about ways to support children’s spiritual development as well as our own. We hope to see you there!

For the child. . . it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. . .  It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate ~ Rachel Carson

6 thoughts on “From the Inside be Outside: Nature and Spiritual Development in the Early Years

  1. This speaks to me on so many levels. That I was able to participate in the Land as the First Teacher weekend was so amazing; and I look forward to joining the retreat in August to further my own personal journey with the land. I recently began an online training which focuses on Wonder Based teaching, and this post reiterates everything I have been discovering and experiencing. I am incorporating what I learn into my teaching and sharing with my peers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful words that leaves one to wonder even more on my own journey in creating and supporting the early years. The ability to be out in nature and be present to all of our senses is such a gift to give to our children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Broken Circle: Rethinking the Practice of Circles in Early Learning | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  4. Pingback: Hygge in the Early Years: Supporting the Foundational Conditions for Learning and Development | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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