SchoolArts Room

Forest Bathing In Big Bend National

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Oct 12, 2018

It is time for a different, formal defense of nature. We should offer up not just the notion of being sensible and responsible about it…nor the notion of its mammoth utilitarian and financial value… but a third way, something different entirely: we should offer up what it means to our spirits; the love of it. We should offer up its joy.”  Michael McCarthy, The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy, New York Review Books, 2015.

Forest bathing in Big Bend National Park


Is Nature a welcome guest in your art room? I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by woods and had a father who was a scoutmaster who taught me to look closely at nature. As an art teacher, I always tried to either bring nature into the art room or take my students outside in it. Today, more than ever, we need to help our students find joy in nature.

You can find many scientific studies detailing the benefits of experiencing and responding to nature. One practice found in Japan is called shinrin-yoku,which translates as "forest bathing.”Shinrin-yoku means enjoying the forest environment, or taking in the forest through our five senses with a meditative focus. Shinrin-yokuwas developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

According to research from the University of East Anglia’Norwich Medical School that involved evidence from over 140 studies, 20 countries, and more than 290 million people, noticing nature increases general happiness and well-being. This study defined natural environments as "open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban green spaces, which included urban parks and street greenery."

According to a recent study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors and only 7% outdoors. Similarly, The Child Mind Institute reports that the average American child spends 4 to 7 minutes a day outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Television, the Internet, and social media have certainly contributed to this sad statistic. This behavior even has a name: nature deficit disorder.

So what can we do as art teachers to help our students experience and appreciate nature more fully? One approach I took was to feature the seasons throughout the year as inspiration for art. A focus on the natural world also fits beautifully with a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) curriculum. 

If you can’t take your students off campus into a natural setting forshinrin-yoku, start with the environment of your school or within walking distance. Start a nature garden at your school and involve your students in planning, creating, and maintaining it.

No matter what approach you take, help your students experience the joy of nature.