As a children’s author, I am blessed to regularly meet and chat with children about all sorts of weird, wonderful, and important things, ranging from time-travel to ripples of kindness. Since doing school visits and book events centred around my book, One Home, which was published last year, many conversations have centred around our connection to our beautiful, precious planet. Two things that stand out to me every time are; the purity and vastness of a child’s inner state and capacity for connection, and the urgent need for nature to be a significant daily feature in their lives.
The air in our lungs is literally the breath of trees. The water in our bodies might once have been a raindrop or ocean wave. From sparkling glaciers to desert oases, mighty mountains to the lush tropics, the earth nourishes us at every single moment of our time here, providing wondrous sensory experiences, and a comfortable, perfectly balanced home. Every human being ever created shares the same bountiful abode, the ultimate gift from God.
As the physical manifestation of the mighty Quran, every leaf and every crystal, every animal and every plant has meaning, purpose, and weight. The natural world is sacred and to be revered and honoured as a Divine entrustment as well as our door to the Divine. Spending time in nature reflecting, pondering, remembering God, is a cornerstone of the path to wilayah. It is a gateway to intimacy with the Creator, a key feature in the journey of our Beloved ﷺ him’s journey to prophethood. Every prophet had a profound connection to the natural world, with many spending long years shepherding animals under expansive skies before being given their message.
Everything from the natural world is in a state of perpetual glorification of the Divine. Though most of us are too veiled to perceive this reality, every insect and rock, tree and cloud is indeed singing songs of praise at every moment. Children are of course, born in a state of pure fitrah, unaffected by the darknesses and agitations of this world. Their state is also one of perpetual glorification of God, and is in absolute harmony with the state of the natural world. Almost as if the default state of a child is resonating at the same frequency as the grass and breezes and birds. When a child is surrounded with untouched nature, crafted directly by the hand of God, their soul is at peace. The primordial state is supported, mirrored, and comforted.
Contrasting harshly with this is the reality most children in the Western world find themselves in; surrounded by artificiality, man-made materials and landscapes, with snippets of nature granted in between. Many of us find the vastness of our skies marred by tall buildings and towers, the soil underfoot buried by the urban jungle. The non-natural world is in a sense at loggerheads with the fitrah, instead of the echoes of heavenly praise emanating from the soul of a child being reflected back at them by the forest or valley, in the artificiality of modernity, there is a disharmony. Agitation of the soul begins. The state of peace and contentment starts giving way to the earliest signs of anxieties and imbalances.
When I speak to children about the gifts that nature gives them and how it makes them feel, I am endlessly inspired on hearing their thoughts and emotions. From befriending trees, to honing in on the meditative world of insects, being awed by passing clouds, to noticing the magic of animals, their innate attunement to the natural world is beautiful. I do also feel quite disheartened at how scarce exposure to the natural world is for many. No doubt, proximity to wild, untouched spaces is a huge privilege, and so I factored this into the challenge/DIY sections of One Home. Not everyone has the luxury of outdoor space in the form of a garden or balcony, and so many activities and tasks don’t require them at all.
One Home is a love letter from me to our planet, an adventure around the globe exploring 18 beautiful ecosystems and habitats through the eyes of young climate activists. From Pakistan to Chile, Sudan to Indonesia, the pages of the book are an ode to our wondrous world, and a guide as to how young minds and hearts can help protect it. In order to truly care for and love something, you must know it and value it. My intention for the book was for it to be a seed for this knowing and valuing, and I’m going to share two simple activities inspired by One Home that I often use during my events to build this connection.
This is a powerful practice that nurtures a connection between us and the natural world, one that will help attune young hearts and senses to the stories, treasures, and comforts that it holds. The following excerpt is from p37 of One Home:
Pause for a minute and think about all the ways you interact with our wonderful earth. Like the Sarayuku people, reflect on how nature nourishes you. Have you ever felt cheered up by the sight of a beautiful butterfly or the way the light reflects off a lake? What about the more essential ways, like the refreshing water that you drink each day, or the air you’re breathing in and out right now without even realising? All too often we’re so busy that we hardly pay any attention to the wonders that surround us. There are countless gifts that the earth gives to us every second of our lives, often right in front of us!
Find a ‘sit spot’. This can be anywhere that you have access to the natural world – for example, a spot in your garden or balcony, by your favourite tree in a park or beach. Take five minutes to sit there and get to know the place, just by being present. Observe what is around you, smells, sights, breezes, warmth or cool, the feeling of the ground beneath you. Are there any insects or birds around? After a few minutes you will not only be seeing things but sensing them too, and by returning to your sit spot at different times of day and even times of year, you’ll notice changes, big and small. The more time you spend within nature, the stronger your relationship with it becomes.
Wherever you go, take an extra second to notice and appreciate our planet, and remember that as the Sarayaku say, you too are a part of the wonderful ecosystem.
Foster dialogue with your child about what they are perceiving, take a sketchbook and draw what you see, or take rubbings of bark and leaves using crayons. Choosing a sit spot near your home will make it easier to visit frequently. At first, simply being present in one place might feel uncomfortable as we are used to constantly being busy, but encourage your little one to breathe deeply, and to engage their senses wholly where they are.
We’re used to four distinct seasons in each year, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. In ancient Japanese culture however, they split the year into a whopping seventy-two! Stemming from a profound connection to the subtle changes and appreciation for the incredible gifts that unfold perpetually around us, I feel strongly that we have much to learn from this. The names of the micro-seasons tend to be wonderfully poetic and descriptive, and nod to a deeply attuned bond with the natural world. There is frogs start singing, rainbows hide, first peach blossoms, distant thunder, East wind melts the ice, Earth is damp, air is humid, hawks learn to fly, sparrows start to nest, to name a few!
I ask children to come up with their own micro-seasons. By being encouraged to look around them outdoors, to be perceptive and observant of the small details we often miss because of the pace of modern life, a gentle calm descends. Through paying close attention to the changes and miracles occurring all around us, the vital connection between humans and nature is nourished. This is a fantastic practice to initiate as a household, and I’m always blown away by the poetry and beauty in what the kids in my sessions come up with!
The natural world holds powerful healing, keys to well-being and emotional regulation, and spiritual doors. May we all be granted deep and ongoing intimacy with its wonders.
One Home is written by Hiba Noor Khan, illustrated by Rachael Dean, and published by Macmillan Children’s Books. Available to purchase from Waterstones, Blackwells and Amazon, or choose to support independent bookshops via Bookshop
Hiba Noor Khan is a children’s author, her books include The Little War Cat, Inspiring Inventors and One Home. She has two titles to be published in 2023, including her first novel – Safiyyah’s War. Her books have been listed for national awards and translated into Swedish, Korean, Turkish, Breton and counting. She secretly wants to be an explorer, and is happiest surrounded by nature, especially near the ocean.