Therapeutic Play & Nature Connection
Connecting with Nature helps heal adverse childhood relationships.
For over 20 years I have witnessed the power of nature, therapeutic play and safe space to heal young people with challenging behaviour. These have included ‘targeted’ groups of young people, some at risk of early pregnancy, others with violent behaviour from pupil referral units, children and young people with mental health difficulties.
All these programmes, days and camps have taken place in a natural setting and were held by experienced practitioners. The combination of a natural setting with competent adults is a perfect combination for connection and well-being.
Challenging Behaviour & Therapeutic Play
All schools will have young people that display challenging behaviour, and part of our work is to understand what this behaviour is communicating and how to meet them in the most empathetic, authentic and boundaried way.
The difficulties that result in challenging behaviours are sometimes referred to as ACE: Adverse childhood experiences and they are more common than you think. The original adult-based study found almost two thirds of participants experienced 1 or more ACE and more than 1 in 5 experienced 3 or more ACES. This has raised the profile and urgency of addressing the needs of children, as the impact on later life shows the potential devastating outcomes from ACE’s, and the cost to society.
All of us can benefit from therapeutic play and training that helps us understand how best to support young people. The greater the trauma, the greater the need for professional support. However parents can be supported to improve relationships with their own children and at the same time, their sense of well-being.
You can download the questionnaire and have a go yourself here.
If you work with vulnerable groups you are likely to have been drawn to this kind of service because of your own history, which is a blessing and can be triggering when you are not conscious of your own adverse experiences.
The great news is that what we now know is that the relationship that we have with a trusted adult in our early childhood and beyond can mitigate the impacts of ACE’s on mental and physical well-being. Furthermore, spending more than 20 minutes in the outdoors can reduce stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Research shows that a little stress is necessary for us as it creates a tension that can be good for learning, but too much stress increases our tension, confusion and anger. It can become toxic.
Green exercise optimises your mind-set to improve alertness, attention and motivation, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, logging new information and spurs development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus – all good news for healing and restoration. That’s why experienced Forest School practitioners, green intervention facilitators using long term programmes can really make a positive difference to the current lives and future potential of children and young people.
All of us are likely to have difficulties at some point in our lives. Being disconnected is the source of almost all human problems. ‘Connection’ enables satisfaction in relationships and starts with those primary (parents/carer) relationships.
As practitioners in education and health working with children and young people, we have a responsibility to provide a safe space to learn skills and strategies so that we can offer a connection-friendly environment. This includes using effective communication, providing therapeutic spaces and managing our own behaviour.
Nature connection is a way of opening up your senses which over time results in a satisfying kinship with nature, another nurturing relationship. Forests and natural environments are considered therapeutic landscapes and have demonstrated many positive psychological effects.
Exposure to forests and trees lead to increased liveliness, and decreased levels of stress, hostility and depression. Playing also releases natural endorphins and offers us a way of learning and expressing ourselves on our terms and not through adult lens. Being in nature can have a profound positive impact on a person’s sympathetic (i.e., fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems. Essentially, people feel less stressed and more rested.
We are advocating the need for a new hybrid approach. This model combines what we know within neuroscience, how we respond to stress, the impact of negative experiences, with how nature provides the ideal restorative environment for all ages.
If you would like to learn more, join us at our 2 day course:
An Experiential training for health and education practitioners wanting to work in ‘Green Spaces’ and will include:
- Therapeutic nature play.
- The Forest School Continuum.
- Exploring effective strategies for working with children displaying vulnerable and challenging needs.
- Establishing Trust: understanding the fundamental importance of safe space/s and how to utilise it.
- Psych-ed: Understanding difficult behaviours and the connection between sensory input, emotional response and behaviour (with the impact of ACE).
- Explore your own triggers and inner landscape.
- Play ideas: child-led and adult-directed e.g ropes and clay.
- Key communication strategies: creative, reflective and empathetic skills.
- Increase the tool kit to include more sensory-based games.
- Develop understanding of Attachment Theory and how it relates to emotional insecurity.
- Play skills include sand, puppet and music.
Transforming education, health and family through nature.
Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.
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