We spend lots of time trying to get children in to church to develop their faith. But there’s an even better venue outdoors for that.
Spending time outside in unstructured play is critical to children’s growth and development. Including their faith development. Playing outdoors increases confidence, inner peace, and a sense of wonder and awe. All the stuff we want them to get from church. Not only that, it reduces depression, obesity, and ADHD.
Despite the spiritual benefits of being outdoors, many Millennials and Digitals now experience “Nature Deficit Disorder.” (Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods describes this modern day neurosis.) And with it, comes Spiritual Deficit Disorder.
Here are some solutions for Christian Educators that engage younger generations, inspire fun, and bring out the kid in everyone.
It’s no longer a given that young people will play outside or spend much time outdoors. Returning children to nature, to cultivate a sense of awe and wonder, is a crucial part of Christian education. Connecting the creation to the Creator magnifies the learning experiences of children. Yes, there’s a time and a place for attending Sunday School, church, and other building-based activities. But here are some nature-oriented activities you can do this summer:
- Plant seeds and trees as part of Sunday School education and watch them grow.
- Send children to summer church camp where they can connect the Creator and the creation.
- Use Bible studies and curricula that teach environmental stewardship as part of faithfulness. Check out Green Church: Caretakers of God’s Creation (for children) and Burst: Green Church (for youth), a pair of six-week studies that go with the adult six-week study Green Church: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice!
- Design a Vacation Bible School that takes children outside. Give them time for play, reflection, and outdoor exploration.
- Tell a Bible story or parable outside. Help young people make a connection between the words of scripture and the world around them.
- Take children on nature walks. Focus on streams, birds, trees, flowers, clouds, bugs, animals, or other nearby natural features.
Go All Out
- Create an outdoor play environment on church grounds for use by Sunday school classes and the surrounding neighborhood. Incorporate trees, sandboxes and birdhouses to observe wildlife, and paths and bridges to explore interesting natural features.
- Clean up and green up an unused or abandoned area in your neighborhood as a child-to-child outreach from your church. Engage the children in your church to create a green play area for other neighborhood children.
- Put together a church camping weekend. Design a worship service that incorporates readings from Genesis and the Psalms as well as silent meditation time. Focus on caring for the creation as a way of loving God.
- Design a summer retreat in which adults mentor young people in the vital connection between spirituality and nature.
Take a Sabbath from the computer and the television. Spend time outdoors. Garden, hike, fish, camp, hunt, go bird-watching, enjoy nature walks. Take children, grandchildren, and other children with you. Introduce them to the wonders of nature. Breathe deeply. Relax. Enjoy!
Step Away From the Screen
It’s not only children who develop Nature Deficit Disorder. Adults get it too. We have traded green time for screen time. So here’s an idea. Put down your phone or turn off your computer and step outside right now for a much needed breath of fresh air. Yes, right now. Feel your spirit begin to fill up again. And your sense of awe and wonder begin to return. Now, isn’t that better?
Adapted from 7 Simple Steps to Green Your Church by Rebekah Simon-Peter, (C) Copyright 2010.
Photo of boys running courtesy of chrisroll at freedigitalphotos.net.
Photo of girl blowing bubbles courtesy of pat138241 at freedigitalphotos.net.