Nature Is Healing

Nature is healing,” said Catherine Eubank, founder of ONE Forest School near Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County.

The Importance of Kids Spending Time Outside

By: Shannon Kelly  |  Photos Courtesy: Jill Waugh

Nature is healing,” said Catherine Eubank, founder of ONE Forest School near Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County. 

Her sentiment echoes myriad studies on the healthful impacts of spending time outdoors—and studies that examine what can happen when there is a lack of connection to the natural world.

“Nature deficit disorder” is a term coined by Richard Louv in 2005, in his book, Last Child in
the Woods
. In an interview with Jill Suttie for Greater Good Magazine, Louv said the term
“is not a medical diagnosis, but a useful term—a metaphor—to describe what many of us believe are the human costs of alienation from nature: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.”

Louv further said urban planning and loss of green spaces contribute to diminished engagement with nature.

Some places in and around the Lynchburg area aim to remedy that.


ONE Forest School

Located near Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County, ONE Forest School is an accredited forest school and is also accredited by the American Camp Association for the summer camp program it offers. Launched in 2017, the school operates on a 10-acre campus on Deerhead Nature Preserve.

Open to children from preschool through eighth grade, ONE Forest School’s curriculum and setting aims to address what Eubank said is a root cause of school and workplace violence, substance use issues, and suicide rates, particularly among young people: a lack of knowledge on how to healthfully manage strong emotions, and how to communicate them appropriately. 

Part of addressing this issue starts with acknowledging its connection to nature deprivation.

“If you’re in the middle of the forest, and you are not surrounded by anything but sticks and twigs, and beautiful images, and the birds tweeting, it’s a natural sedative. It’s been scientifically proven, the endorphin levels rise in your brain, and all the things that you need to quiet your mind are already right there,” she said.

Eubank has seen the transformative difference nature immersion makes on children as they learn to acclimate to more time outside—building sure-footedness and tuning in to nature rather than manufactured noise and artificial stimuli.

Playing with sticks, making mud cakes, working the garden, putting on skits, making crafts, sharing in talk circles, and spending time in the sand box are all part of the holistic experience. Students learn to identify the flora and fauna by touch, sight, and smell. 

“The kids that have been in public school, and were made to sit down, and made to be quiet have a really hard time also adjusting to our way of things, where we don’t sit down, and we’re moving around, and we’re investigating, and looking, and touching, and feeling, and speaking, and communicating. We have to use that time as an unschooling process,” Eubank said.

More details about ONE Forest School can be found at oneforestschool.org.

Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center

In the City of Lynchburg, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah is a 47-acre nature oasis that, according to its mission statement, “serves emerging social needs through the process of engaging children, families and community in meaningful outdoor experiences.” In 2021,
the camp expanded on that mission by placing 42 of its acres under a conservation easement and rebranding to a new name: Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center.

Featuring a large field, creeks, and some pools, the property is predominantly wooded. Pollinator and sensory gardens are tended there, along with native plants. Students and campers who participate in certain programs have the opportunity to help in the vegetable garden, harvest their own food, and cook with it, learning about nutrition and how to make healthy meals that benefit physical and mental wellbeing. 

Being outside tends to make one want to learn, said Amy Bonnette, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah’s executive director. 

“Not 100 percent, but the majority of the behavior issues or challenges you might see in a traditional classroom setting just disappear, and a lot of children who might struggle in a traditional academic atmosphere can really thrive and succeed, and are willing to ask questions, and willing to share, and are able to use their hands to explore and to learn,” said Gage McAngus, program director at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center. “It’s been really phenomenal, because in discussions we’ve had with teachers, they’ve seen a completely different side of their children.”

Further initiatives underway at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah Nature Center include building renovations, handicap accessibility improvements, addition of a kitchen and event space, and the organization is working toward the goal of breaking ground for a new amphitheater. The nonprofit camp also has scholarships available for a limited number of eligible kids.

“I want people to find their place in the woods,” Bonnette said. The experiences at the nature center help develop confidence and self-esteem in the children who participate, building community, exploring new interests and activities, cultivating listening and communication skills, and developing compassion for other living things as they interact with the natural world and with each other. Leadership and mentoring opportunities are also available for teens through the camp’s programming.

“There seems to be a real kind of gentleness when it comes to nature that you might not get from the anxiety that can come from being in front of a screen, playing a video game, or watching a show that’s going to end after 20 minutes with an ad in the middle.

They really are able to take time to breathe, and to calm down, and to appreciate just the beauty of what’s around them every day,” McAngus said. 

There are a few public access points around the property to walking trails, athletic fields, and pollinator gardens the community can enjoy. The KinderWoods area is also open to the public every day from 9 a.m. ’til dusk when summer camp is not in session.

More information and a calendar of events is available online at campkumbayah.org  

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