Forest bathing provides children with a simple yet fascinating way to improve their connection with the natural world and experience all of its many benefits. This article explores the idea of “forest bathing”, highlights its benefits for children, and offers a Beginner’s Guide to forest bathing adventures.
Table of contents
- What is Forest Bathing?
- The Origins of Forest Bathing as Therapy
- The Benefits of Forest Bathing for Kids
- Forest Bathing Adventures: A Beginner’s Guide
- Interactive QUIZ
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, is the practice of completely immersing oneself in the forest. It is a personal and intuitive experience that involves mindfully connecting with the natural world. The practice aims at improving overall well-being and lowering stress.
“It’s an activity where people relax by synchronizing, or harmonizing, with the forest,” says Miyazaki Yoshifumi, researcher and author specializing in “forest bathing”.
This therapeutic practice invites us to use all our five senses. As a result, we can better appreciate all the visual landscapes, auditory melodies, olfactory scents, and tactile sensations provided by the forest environment.
Besides, forest bathing offers us an opportunity to slow down and disconnect from the demands of everyday life. It allows us to be fully present in the moment and in nature. Additionally, it encourages us to take in the forest while we deeply breathe.
The Origins of Forest Bathing as Therapy
Deeply rooted in Japanese culture, forest bathing has gained recognition worldwide for its therapeutic benefits. The practice draws inspiration from ancient philosophies, such as Shinto and Buddhism, and aims to provide a modern way to reconnect with nature.
Forest bathing, originating in Japan during the 1980s, emerged as a method of preventive healthcare. To delve into its effects on human health, the Japanese government initiated a series of scientific investigations. The outcomes proved remarkable! Spending time in forests not only influences blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, and immune function but also enhances emotional aspects and overall mental well-being.
The research inspired the Japanese government to plan official Shinrin-yoku trails inside of woods and, later, in the 2000s, to establish Forest Therapy Centers all over Japan.
The Benefits of Forest Bathing for Kids
Forest bathing grants numerous benefits to children. Immersing themselves in the great outdoors allows young ones to explore, engage with, and develop a bond with the natural world.
Enhanced Physical Health
Incorporating forest bathing into children’s lives can contribute to their physical development, from improved motor skills to stronger bones and respiratory health. The combination of physical activity, exposure to sunlight, and the refreshing forest air creates a nurturing environment that supports children’s overall physical well-being.
a. Increased Physical Activity
Forest bathing not only offers a peaceful experience but also encourages children to engage in physical activity as they explore the natural environment. The structure of organized exercise routines can feel monotonous and repetitive for kids. Forest bathing, on the other hand, provides them with a sense of freedom and exploration. So, kids can let their instincts and curiosity guide them through the natural elements of the forest.
As they traverse uneven terrains, they learn to adapt to the ever-changing landscape beneath their feet. The forest becomes their playground, where they climb over fallen logs and jump across small streams. These activities not only stimulate their senses but also strengthen their gross motor skills as well.
Balance is a crucial skill that children develop through forest bathing. Walking along narrow paths, hopping across stepping stones, and avoiding fallen branches all require a high sense of balance. As they encounter these obstacles, their bodies instinctively adjust, allowing them to maintain equilibrium.
This newfound stability extends beyond their forest bathing adventures and translates into improved performance in other physical activities, such as sports and recreational games.
Agility, another key attribute, is sharpened by the need for rapid movements when exploring the hidden gems of the forest. Children develop fast reflexes as they encounter unexpected obstacles, such as low-hanging branches or hidden roots. They synchronize their bodies with these obstacles, by adapting their movements with grace and dexterity.
These agile movements not only improve physical capabilities but also create a sense of confidence in children as they triumph over every challenge posed by the forest.
Coordination is a fundamental skill that is refined through the diverse movements experienced during forest bathing. Climbing over fallen logs, crossing fallen tree trunks, and stepping on rocks all demand precise coordination of different muscle groups. The need to synchronize their movements while maintaining balance and stability improves children’s overall coordination skills.
These enhanced motor skills extend beyond physical activities, benefiting children in tasks that require hand-eye coordination, such as writing, drawing, and playing musical instruments.
b. Exposure to Sunlight
By simply being in the woods, children are exposed to sunlight. Numerous benefits result from this exposure to natural light, including the creation of vitamin D. The so-called “sunshine vitamin” is vital for healthy bone development in growing children.
It acts as a facilitator, allowing calcium and phosphorus (the fundamental components of strong bones) to be absorbed effectively. But the benefits of sunlight go beyond bone health. Adequate levels of vitamin D also play a crucial role in boosting the immune system.
c. Clean Air and Respiratory Health
Forests are known for their clean and fresh air, free from the pollutants often found in urban environments. Breathing in the forest air actively fortifies children’s respiratory system, promotes healthy lung function, and reduces the risk of respiratory issues such as asthma or allergies.
Moreover, the forest air possesses a remarkable quality – phytoncides. These natural compounds, released by trees, not only add to the distinctive scent of the forest but also offer profound benefits for respiratory health.
Scientific research has proven that phytoncides have antimicrobial properties. They effectively combat harmful microorganisms that can trigger respiratory illnesses. Additionally, they possess strong anti-inflammatory qualities, soothing the airways and reducing the risk of inflammation-related respiratory issues. As children inhale the forest air, their respiratory systems receive an extra layer of defense against potential threats and respiratory challenges.
Improved Mental Well-Being
Forest bathing adventures provide children with a break from the fast-paced and technology-driven modern world. They allow children to simply return to nature. The calming atmosphere of the forest acts as a natural stress reliever, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. Therefore, the sights and sounds of nature engage the senses and cultivate mindfulness in children.
a. Reduced Stress and Anxiety
“In our modern society, young people have less contact with nature than before, and it seems that they are more stressed than ever. (…) Right now, depression among children is increasing,” says Miyazaki Yoshifumi.
However, the peaceful atmosphere of the forest offers kids a serene escape from the stresses of daily life. The vibrant hues of green leaves and their gentle whispers in the breeze, the soft touch of moss beneath children’s feet, the song of birds, and the absence of urban noise contribute all to a calming ambiance that promotes relaxation.
As children immerse themselves in the forest, a transformative journey unfolds within them. Their senses come alive, responding to the serene environment with wonder and awe. Stress melts away as kids let go of their worries and release tension. And in the simplicity and beauty of the forest, they can experience a sense of mental and emotional well-being.
Forest bathing provides a unique opportunity for children to actively engage with nature. Away from screens and constant stimulation, they can release pent-up energy, focus their attention, and discover a profound sense of inner calm. The forest becomes, in this way, a refuge where stress is relieved, anxiety is silenced, and harmony is restored.
b. Improved Mood
Immersion in nature has been linked to better mood and increased feelings of happiness and contentment. The forest creates a sensory experience that promotes joy and a sense of well-being in children.
The beauty of the forest captivates their eyes and evokes a sense of wonder. But it is not just the visual aspect that brings joy to children’s hearts. The forest offers them a live “concert” of bird songs to accompany their exploration. Moreover, the forest’s magic doesn’t stop at what meets the eye and ear. It embraces also their olfactory senses, with the earthy scent of the forest floor and the delicate fragrance of wildflowers.
Interacting with nature not only increases self-esteem and mood in children but also influences their attitudes towards nature later on in life as well.
“Children raised in nature-deficient areas may be deprived of these early interactions with nature and may therefore be less likely to appreciate and support conservation initiatives in adulthood”, shows a study published in 2013.
c. Heightened Mindfulness
Forest bathing cultivates mindfulness as children focus on their surroundings, embracing the present moment. In the forest, they are encouraged to observe nature’s beauty, engage their senses, and develop a deep sense of appreciation for the world around them.
As they immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and scents of the forest, they become fully present in the experience, letting go of worries and distractions. This state of mindfulness enhances their ability to focus and increases their awareness of their own thoughts and feelings.
Furthermore, studies have shown that exposure to nature and mindful practices (such as walking meditation) decreases symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and increases overall psychological well-being.
“ADHD is a complex and multidimensional disorder on which mindfulness-based interventions have positive effects in terms of better attentional functions and reduced impulsivity, stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms,” shows a study published in 2016.
Boosted Cognitive Development
By engaging in forest bathing, children not only stimulate their curiosity and problem-solving skills but also develop a profound connection with nature.
a. Stimulated Curiosity
The forest environment sparks children’s curiosity as they encounter diverse flora and fauna. They begin to ask questions, explore their surroundings, and seek knowledge about the natural world. In fact, the forest becomes their living classroom, an immersive experience that goes beyond textbooks and lectures.
It presents opportunities for hands-on learning, where children can touch the rough bark of a tree, observe the delicate petals of a wildflower, and marvel at the graceful flight of a butterfly. Basically, every encounter becomes a lesson, every discovery a gateway to new knowledge.
Moreover, children learn in the forest about the interconnectedness of ecosystems, the importance of biodiversity, and the delicate balance that sustains life on Earth.
This newfound curiosity can be a guiding force throughout their lives, driving them to explore, experiment, and discover. It can instill in them a sense of wonder and a hunger for knowledge, fueling a lifelong journey of growth and intellectual stimulation.
b. Improved Problem-Solving Skills
Engaging in forest bathing adventures presents children with opportunities to develop and refine their problem-solving skills. Navigating forest trails challenges them to read maps, interpret signs, and make decisions based on their observations.
Building forts or shelters in the forest, for example, requires critical thinking, creativity, and resourcefulness. Children learn to overcome obstacles, adapt to their environment, and develop innovative solutions. Therefore, these problem-solving experiences in the forest strengthen their cognitive abilities and equip them with valuable life skills.
Immersion in nature also increases creativity in children, but a study shows that kids spend “only 15–25 minutes a day in outdoor play and sports and this number continues to decline”.
There is also evidence that exposure to green space is associated with higher intelligence and lower behavioral problems in children.
“Residential green space may be beneficial for the intellectual and behavioral development of children living in urban areas. These findings are relevant for policymakers and urban planners to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential,” shows a study conducted in 2020 on 7–15-year-old children living in urban areas.
c. Enhanced Connection with Nature
Forest bathing nurtures children’s understanding of ecological concepts and biodiversity. Through direct experience, they develop a deeper connection with nature, cultivating empathy, and fostering a lifelong appreciation for the environment.
In the forest, children witness the interconnectedness of ecosystems, observing how plants, animals, and other living organisms rely on each other for survival. Thus, they develop a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards nature as they understand its fragility.
Moreover, this connection with the natural world stimulates environmental consciousness in children and a desire to protect and preserve the Earth’s resources.
4TinyHands encourages children to be active in protecting our beautiful planet and its trees and makes known to the world young environmentalists, like Kiersten or Baran. Children are Earth’s voice and they have the power to bring our planet back to health!
Better Social Skills
Through forest bathing adventures, children learn the value of collaboration, authentic connection, and friendship. The forest provides a unique setting for social interaction, fostering essential social skills and creating opportunities for meaningful relationships.
a. Opportunities for Collaboration
Forest bathing provides an ideal environment for children to engage in collaborative activities with their peers or family members. The forest offers a vast and open space where children can come together to build forts, construct nature-inspired art, or engage in group games.
These forest bathing adventures encourage children to listen to others, share ideas, and work together towards a common goal. Through respectful communication, they establish a foundation of trust and understanding.
But children learn not only to negotiate, compromise, and embrace diverse perspectives. They also become aware and show appreciation for the unique contributions of each team member. To be able to collaborate effectively is, in academic settings, a great skill to have. As children engage in group projects in school, teamwork and cooperation become essential for success.
b. Authentic Connection
One of the remarkable aspects of forest bathing is the absence of screens and distractions. In the peacefulness of the forest, children have the space and freedom to engage in meaningful conversations, share their observations and discoveries, and express their thoughts about the wonders of the natural world.
Through forest bathing adventures they can develop important social skills that will serve them throughout their lives and strengthen their emotional intelligence (the ability to recognize and manage emotions, both in oneself and in others).
During forest bathing, children learn the art of active listening and the power of empathy. Both are vital components of healthy relationships and effective communication.
Moreover, forest bathing provides an environment that encourages children to engage in open and honest dialogue. Free from the pressures and judgments of daily life, they feel more comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their thoughts and feelings. This open communication nurtures trust and strengthens their bonds with others, creating a safe space for self-expression and personal growth.
The authentic connections forged in forest bathing not only benefit children’s social and emotional well-being. They also contribute to their overall sense of connection to the natural world. And kids learn to respect the environment.
Forest Bathing Adventures: A Beginner’s Guide
In his book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li affirms that forest bathing is quite a simple practice. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest,” he writes.
a. Choose the Right Spot
When planning a forest bathing adventure for kids, you should look for forests or nature reserves that are easily accessible and child-friendly (with gentle trails and, if possible, with facilities such as picnic areas and restrooms).
If you don’t have the possibility to journey into deep forests, any source of nature with plenty of trees will do just fine. The urban park near your home could be just the perfect spot for you and your child.
“Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says.
b. Minimize distractions
During forest bathing, it is important that you switch off your electronic devices and put them away in your pocket or bag. By disconnecting from technology, you can fully engage with the natural environment and make the most of your time in the forest.
c. Go slow and engage your senses
Once you enter the forest, don’t rush and automatically begin your walk. Instead, stay still for a little while and truly “feel” the forest and connect with it. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li.
Become aware of your surroundings – trees, plants, rocks, birds, or other animals. Be mindful also of your own body in relation to the natural elements. How does the forest floor feel beneath your feet? Do you feel the need to “touch” the forest? Then feel free to pick up a small rock, a little branch, a leaf maybe, and play with it in your hand in a mindful way.
Try to take note also of the less visible elements. Listen actively. Ask your child what they hear. Bird chirping, insects, or the sound of leaves dancing in the soft wind? Is it maybe the sound of water? Forest has its own healing sound. Appreciate it together with your child!
“Breath” the forest in! Breathe slowly, by practicing belly breathing. Encourage your child to take long breaths deep into the abdomen, exhaling twice as long as inhaling.
d. Practice walking meditation
Begin to slowly walk, being mindful of how your movements tune in and synchronize with the natural rhythm of the forest and your breath. Try to walk quietly as well. Like this, you’ll have a better chance to encounter a deer or another shy forest animal.
Every once in a while, ask your child to stop, sit quietly, and use mindful observation to look all around. Encourage your kid to express their thoughts and feelings about the natural world and about how the forest makes them feel.
“Walking slowly will help you to keep your senses open, to notice things and smell the forest air,” says Li.
e. Engage in forest bathing adventures with your kid
Encourage your child to play with the forest and explore its treasures. You can examine together different plants, and try to identify animal tracks or birds after their specific songs. Additionally, you can also engage in other interactive activities such as tree rubbings, leaf collecting, or creating nature-inspired artwork.
These experiences will deepen your child’s connection with the natural world and foster a lifelong appreciation for Earth’s beauty.
Once you decided that your forest bathing has come to an end, take a moment to connect with your child. Ask them to tune in and reflect on their emotional state. Do they feel a greater sense of calmness after the forest bathing adventure?
However, if you are unable to go outdoors for any particular reason, bringing the natural essence of trees into your home through essential oil diffusion can also offer numerous advantages.
Test Your Tree Knowledge!
Trees are the superheroes our planet needs. By unlocking the secrets of these leafy giants, we can unleash a forest of appreciation and stand tall as guardians of our green friends.
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a practice of immersing oneself in nature (primarily forests) to promote well-being and reduce stress.
Yes, forest bathing is generally safe for children. However, it is essential to supervise young children and ensure they stay on designated trails. Educate your child about potential dangers and teach them to respect nature.
You can encourage them to observe nature, touch different textures, listen to sounds, and embrace the wonders of the forest.
Forest bathing offers children enhanced physical health, improved mental well-being, boosted cognitive development, and enhanced social skills.
While forest bathing is generally safe, it’s essential to be mindful of children with allergies. Familiarize yourself with potential allergens in the forest, and take any necessary precautions.
Forest bathing can be particularly beneficial for them. The calming environment and sensory experiences in nature can support their overall well-being and provide a therapeutic outlet.
Absolutely! Even children living in urban areas can benefit from forest bathing. Seek out local parks, green spaces, or botanical gardens to provide them with opportunities to connect with nature.
The frequency of forest-bathing activities can vary depending on personal preferences and availability. However, aim for at least one forest bathing adventure per week.
If you find pleasure in reading 4TinyHands’ informative articles and free interviews, and if you appreciate my work in empowering children and increasing awareness about environmental concerns, I would greatly appreciate your kind consideration of making a donation. No matter how small, your donation could profoundly contribute to maintaining this website dedicated to both children and their parents.
Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved