Carey Leichter joins Guidepost Parent with words of wisdom regarding children and nature. Should children get out and get dirty? What benefits does being in nature bestow on children? Here’s Carey:
There is a trend toward allowing children to get back to nature, playing in outdoor settings in which getting dirty, exploring, seeing, touching, smelling and hearing (and sometimes tasting) nature is a first-hand experience.
While playing outside is not new, in recent decades communities have leaned towards a form of protective play that has become restrictive to children’s growth. But, current research supports “existing theories linking nature-based outdoor education to positive learning and developmental outcomes including enhanced imaginative play, increased physical and mental well-being, and environmental stewardship.”
Allowing children to explore their world quietly, or with robust glee, is a gift. A hands-on exploration of the natural world helps the child learn to feel connected to the cycles of the earth, grounding them, and giving a distinct perspective on life, as well as a respect for our natural resources. It develops their senses, tests their limits (within relative safety), and empowers them by honing their abilities. We can foster this connection not only by taking children to the lakes, forests, or parks for special events… but in their daily activities.
When we plant seeds with our children, we do more than literally plant seeds, we plant the seeds for a love of nature.
Observe your backyard, or any personal outdoor space for children: Is it child-friendly? Does it provide opportunities for the child to see, feel, hear, smell, and taste? Does the child have the opportunity to take part in the process of creating, or maintaining the space? Does the child have the opportunity to explore nature’s lifecycles—not just the cold of North Dakota winters—but the inter-connectivity of the natural world, the decomposition of the plant material, and the habits and habitats of our outdoor friends?
Challenge yourself to think outside the box, and try something new. Lie on your back, feel the grass and watch the clouds, the wind blowing the tree branches. Listen to the birds, crickets, and frogs. Crawl on all fours and view the world through the vantage point of a child.
Consider the art of nature, the music that can be created, the poetry, the stories, the physical exploration, the climbing, leaping, balancing … the planting, the growing, the harvesting, the changes of the seasons, the change in light and shadow, the changes in temperature, colors, smells, textures…the changes in wildlife, insects, and birds…. Don’t forget to allow your child to independently explore and discover their world. Interpretations will vary, and it’s wonderful to share experiences.
Providing access to the natural world throughout the seasons, and with a variety of sensory experiences fosters a love for their environment. Whether touching worms, balancing on logs, or climbing rocks and trees, we can encourage this outdoor exploration by allowing our children to get dirty, to explore, to observe, to learn, to test their fears and their personal boundaries.
We can imagine the joy our children are experiencing through their expressions, laughter, stories, songs, and pictures. And, while we can’t always share in every moment, we know that they are creating strong, wonderful memories.
To start creating memories as a family, try playing this game.
Nature Hunt – View and Download: This nature hunt has some uncommon items on the list, and might take a little extra thought on the part of the participants. But what better way to enjoy a day in nature?
Creating memories that last a lifetime is part of the family experience, a legacy in which children see a place within their world, where they can feel grounded and connected to mother nature, and which they in turn, can share with future generations. Taking the time to slow down and connect with our children is more than a gift of time. The wonders of the world reveal themselves, as well as the wonders of what we can achieve.
There are many good websites for inspiration—be it crafts, or landscape and garden design. The following list is a great starting point for research, tips, and insight.
- Nature Explore
- Dimensions Educational Research Foundation
- Children and Nature Network
- The Arbor Day Foundation
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