If lockdown has taught us anything, it's how much we all need access to the great outdoors. And, with the hot UAE summer driving most of us inside all day, experts are warning of the dangers of Nature Deficit Disorder - the idea that without access to green spaces and the natural world, children experience behavioural problems and their senses narrow, which "reduces the richness of their experience," says Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Interacting with nature is a major way in which we tap into our sensory side, says educator and dance, meditation and yoga enthusiast Gloria Otero, who has spent years putting together a syllabus for educating children on alternative topics that encourage them to tune into their senses.
Gloria says, “After working with children for many years, I realised that there were many important skills that were not being taught at schools. Classes that, in my opinion are the key to help guide children to discover and actualise their talents, gifts, and life purpose to figure out who they will become in the future.”
Combining her knowledge of the arts and mindfulness with her husband’s engineering knowledge, Gloria created Kids of Tomorrow – courses that have since been taught all over the world.
She says, “Kids of Tomorrow was created with the vision of helping guide children and teens around the world to embody their infinite potential in ways that are not only healthy, but also positive, for their physical and emotional wellbeing. Through art, science, technology and mindfulness, we help kids discover and actualise their talents, gifts, and life purpose. Our classes now include topics such as science, technology, 3-D printing, engineering, survival skills, sound and energy healing, organic gardening, aromatherapy, astronomy, crystals, music, dance, art and more.”
Gloria shares with us some ideas for helping your child tune into nature at home
We might not all have a garden or pool, but we are all under the same sky. Trigger an interest in astronomy and space with this easy activity. “Take the kids out at night to see the stars,” says Gloria. Whether you have a garden, a balcony or simply a window, every child can be a mini astronomer.
“You can use the free app SkyView which is an augmented reality (AR) app for both iOS and Android devices. This app uses your smartphone’s GPS location to uncover different stars, constellations, planets, star clusters and other celestial bodies in the night sky relative to your location.”
Do you have a budding geologist on your hands? Rocks are some of the Earth's oldest natural elements. Gloria says, “Young kids love to collect rocks and can be encouraged by the many different crystal-growing kits designed for young children. I also suggest that parents consider buying a rock tumbler machine as it will polish ordinary rocks and make them look like crystals through a scientific process.”
Healing with music
From rain to birdsong, all of the natural world has its own rhythm and vibration. Music in early childhood can help to tune children into nature, and it is also therapeutic. Gloria advises, “Sound and music is therapy and can influence our moods… The music we listen to can make us feel sad, or happy. A good idea is to play different types of music and let your children dance to it, encouraging them be aware of what emotion is being produced in them by the music. For awareness of energy, let your kids close their eyes and bring their hands together to feel the heat between them, or to feel the energy of somebody being nearby. I use this technique to teach blind kids how to dance as they are more susceptible to feeling the energy of those around them.”
We are spoilt for choice in the UAE when it comes to natural world to explore. The desert, the mountains, the beach, the parks… There are so many opportunities to get kids outside and exploring in their own way. But a garden is equally good, or even creating your own terrarium can be a very valuable way of tuning into the Earth.
“For ages six and under, I suggest exposing them to nature as much as possible and letting their curiosity drive them to ask questions. Along with this, building a terrarium is a good way to introduce them to Earth science.”
Screens aren’t all bad!
“There are many films and documentaries out there, but I just suggest movies such as Avatar and The Last Airbender as they pique children’s interest in the environment while still teaching them valuable life lessons about values such as patience and acceptance.”
Why your kids should do yoga and meditate
Kids of Tomorrow director, Gloria Otero, is a qualified kids and teens yoga and meditation instructor. Here she tells us why it is so important.
“It is important for children to learn topics such as yoga and meditation because it allows them to learn how to manage stress and concentrate in school. Other benefits of yoga are that postures help to recharge a weak immune system and strengthen the core, breathing exercises improve concentration and energy levels and relaxation techniques help to focus the mind.
"Some of the benefits of meditation include increased concentration, improved self-acceptance, more self-esteem, better ability to control anger and hyperactivity and decreased stress. It is important to start introducing skills to kids at very early age, such as how to manage stress and how to live healthy and inspired lives, so that they can become the best version of themselves as they grow older.”
For details of upcoming Kids of Tomorrow workshops in the UAE, visit www.kidsoftomorrow.org
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