parenting

Learning to Reconnect with Nature (…and Yourself!)

In today’s fast-paced world we tend to more often live in a virtual world, filled with social media images and communication rather than in the present. In fact, the average American adult spends more than 10 hours a day using media and this trend is also affecting our children. A recent study found that teens, on average, spend 9 hours a day using media (not counting the time spend at school using it), and tweens (children between 8-12 years of age) use about 6 hours per day. Now let’s stop and think about that for a minute, how much time do you spend sleeping in a day?

It seems that we as a society are beginning to lose sight of the human experience. We are so wrapped up in our own heads that we are losing sight of basic sensory experiences. So, how do we get back to a more peaceful yet simultaneously exciting place in life, and how do we teach our children to really experience life?

What is Aesthetic Awareness?

To accomplish this task, we must learn to be aware of our surroundings, natural beauty, our sensations, and perceptions. Building our own aesthetic awareness is one way to do this. The term aesthetic awareness can be described in the most basic terms as being aware of the environment around you and having an appreciation of your personal sensory experience.  Historically aesthetic awareness referred just to understanding and appreciating fine art, however in more recent years has been expanding to include appreciation of surroundings and experiences on a broader level. Environmental aesthetics has taken this concept one step further and focuses on the same idea but in outdoor spaces.

Sensation and Perception

To be aware of your surroundings, we must first recognize how we sense and perceive our environments. At any given moment, the human brain is subjected to as many as 100 million sensory messages however, only a few of these messages register in your awareness. As adults, our brains combine sensory information to create a more complete picture and this “sensory fusion” can make it more difficult to separate the individual sensory experiences. However, children up to the age of 12 perceive these same sensory experiences as separate and individual sensations. As adults we rarely stop to experience our world through certain senses like taste or touch but children, especially young children, routinely use all five of their senses to learn about and explore their environments. This makes learning to be more aware of our surroundings and sensory experiences a bit more difficult for us, but very easy for a child.

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We as parents have the responsibility to teach our children how to appreciate creation and beauty through exploration and wonder.

Take Time to Stop and Smell the Roses

Being aware of your surroundings is a great start, but as the old adage goes “take time to stop and smell the roses”. We as parents have the responsibility to teach our children how to appreciate creation and beauty through exploration and wonder. By purposely slowing down and creating opportunities for our children to learn and acknowledge what they are sensing and feeling in their environment, we can build their perceptive skills, foster creativity, create an appreciation for natural beauty, increase their well-being and improve their safety.

Reaping the Benefits

As an adult we create teachable moments and build the bond between parent and child by teaching our children to be aesthetically aware. We also teach them to be more aware of their surroundings and therefore they can be alerted to danger or potentially threatening situations much quicker as well. However, we also reap other benefits from these exercises. By learning to be more present and aware ourselves we have fewer fears and worries, we can often see the best or most efficient way to complete tasks thus saving us precious time, and we don’t require a “break” from our own thoughts as often. Therefore, we spend less time with passive tasks like watching TV and more time engaging in productive and rewarding tasks, like pursuing personal interests or spending more time with our families.

As technology continues to advance, we as a society deviate further from the  human experience. By prioritizing time together as a family, making a commitment to unplug, and reconnecting with the natural world we can take back our lives and experience more satisfaction and greater fulfillment. Learning to slow down and appreciate the beauty around us through sensing and feeling in real time, allows us to help our children grow and ultimately can create a more peaceful and gratifying experience in life for each of us.

For ideas on how to get started building aesthetic awareness, please see Teaching Your Child to Appreciate Nature.

Cain, D. (2014, March 17). 15 Powerful Benefits of Living in the Moment. Business Insider. Retrieved January 8, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/15-powerful-benefits-of-living-in-the-moment-2014-3

Feeney, S., & Moravcik, E. (sept. 1987). A Thing of Beauty: Aesthetic Development in Young Children. Young Children, 7-15. Retrieved January 3, 2017, from http://www.li.suu.edu/library/circulation/Gubler/eced3930rgThingOfBeautyOnline08.pdf

Galindo Galindo, M., & Corraliza Rodriguez, J. (2000). Environmental Aesthetics and Psychological Wellbeing: Relationships Between Preference Judgments for Urban Landscapes and Other Relevant Affective Responses. Psychology in Spain,4, 13-27. Retrieved January 3, 2017, from http://www.psychologyinspain.com/content/full/2000/2.htm

Goldstein, E. B. (2014). Sensation and Perception (9th ed.). McGraw Hill Higher Education.

University College London. (2010, September 14). Children and adults see the world differently, research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 8, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100913153630.htm

Wallace, K. (2015, November 3). Teens spend a ‘mind-boggling’ 9 hours a day using media, report says. Retrieved January 8, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/03/health/teens-tweens-media-screen-use-report/

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