Nature education.... what images come to mind? Do you think of people sitting around singing kumba-ya? Thanks to people like Richard Louv and organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation (and countless others!), the conversation about the importance of connecting our children with the natural world is becoming more mainstream.
Research proves that when children interact with nature, it improves their mental, physical and emotional health. When families participate in activities together in nature, it brings them closer and helps re-focus back on what is important- experiences over material objects. When communities engage together and create spaces where every member of the community has access to nature, the whole community benefits.
Where we live, we are blessed with an amazing city park system as well as an incredible county park system. We have green spaces and programming for children and families. There are groups that get together to go hiking, bird-watching, and learning about our native plants and wildlife. There are schools in our area that are dedicated to having children experience nature in a real, genuine, authentic way.
Even a simple walk in your neighborhood offers the opportunity to discuss trees, birds, plants and other creatures. We have to give ourselves permission to take the time to stop and slow down- to relish that walk that could take 15 minutes, but with a curious child, could take an hour. I love watching the parents walk in our neighborhood. They give space and time for their young children (just learning how to walk) to get close to the ground and touch and feel things. Touching the texture of the bark on a tree, smelling the pine needles, seeing the various flowers that are growing, and listening to the birds.
We keep a small pocket sized bird identification guide handy, as well as a tree identification guide. It isn't about having all of the answers or spouting off facts about the animals and plants, it is asking open-ended questions and leaving space for wonder. Leave that pause before you rush to answer the questions. See what other questions come up.
I recently had the opportunity to spend the morning with a second grade boy and fifth grade girl. We were going to go to the playground at a park, but on the way, drove past Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, and one of us commented on a gorgeous giant magnolia tree in bloom. They asked me what that place was, and asked if they could go there instead of the playground. The second grader asked right away "how much does it cost", and was astounded when I told him that it was free, but that it was a special space and that we needed to experience it in a different way than the playground or park.
We spent about an hour walking around, and our conversations were amazing--- talk about leaving space for questions and wonder... we talked about the dates on the headstones and they practiced their mental math skills. We talked about the various species of trees and plants, they explored the various ponds/lakes and discovered tons of shells inside those bodies of water! The second grade boy didn't want to leave. It was such a peaceful experience. My favorite quote of the day was from the fifth grade girl as we were driving away "We have lots of research to do now! We wouldn't have had all these questions and wonderings if we would have just gone to the playground". !!!
Trust your child. Trust yourself. Allow for the messy muddy feet and hands. Allow for the unanswered questions. This is where life-long learning happens.
"Passion does not arrive on a videotape or on a CD; passion is personal. Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature"
Contact me if you are interested in learning more about Little Acorn Explorers, a Montessori based, nature inspired program for children aged 3-6. Classic Montessori lessons/materials, plus tons of time outside experiencing all of the seasons and weather, exploring and making sense of our world.
The power of YES.
There are times our to-do lists are longer than our arms, that the house is a mess, and you are plugging away, trying to stay afloat. The image of a swan looking graceful, but paddling so fast underneath... Just stop. Give yourself a moment.
Today was one of those days in my house. I was not home last week to be with my family, so my amazing husband was here, holding everything together. And interviewing for a job and nailing it! So this week was the week of catch-up, but there is still. so. much. to. do. Husband took sweet son on an "adventure" (errands to the garden center and the grocery store) so that I could have time to work.
They got home and I was in the middle of work, but my son wanted to talk and play. So I stopped, I had some Adele playing and there was something about her music that speaks to him... I don't know if if the beats, but he and I had an impromptu dance party. Then he sat down and started coloring while I was working on my computer. He stopped and said "Mama, hold my hand?" YES. Yes. Always.
There is something that he is working through right now and he just needed some reassurance. How much easier would it have been to say "not now honey", but then I stop and remember, he is my why. These precious moments are fleeting. As we were dancing together, I remembered all of the other times I have danced with this sweet, spirited child. Dancing was one of the few things that would calm him down, so I would dance to the Philip Philip's song, Home, when he was a colicky infant. We danced when we moved to Cincinnati, a dance of joy. We dance when we are frustrated, or when the world is confusing. When his emotions are too much for him, we dance. Dancing seems to give us an outlet to process everything. So today, we danced, but today, he was much more independent. He has his own style (oddly reminiscent of my brother's moves!), and he owns it. His laughter and smiles. YES.
Does that mean that I always say Yes, oh no! There are definitely no's... probably more no's than I would like to admit to, but my point-- lean in to those moments when you have that chance to say YES and just let go. Let go of the expectations. Let go of looking all put together. Let go of what you think other people will think, and just dance. The message you are sending to your children when you allow yourself to be messy and allow yourself to feel your emotions and to be okay with yourself--- you are giving them permission to say YES to themselves. To tap into that primitive self that we all have, that just lets go. YES to being silly and goofy and dancing with abandon. YES to being yourself. YES to life. YES to the sorrow and the pain and the joy and the confusion. YES.
Family by blood, family by grace, family by choice. Our families come in all forms, but at the heart, family is home. Family is where you can be safe to let your hair down and be honest and vulnerable and crabby, and also where you learn firsthand about forgiveness and love.
I feel so lucky that I grew up with such a strong family. I am the second oldest of 5, and I can't imagine my life any other way. My siblings had (and continue to have) such an impact on the person I am today. My parents did such an amazing job about raising each of us as individuals with different interests and passions and strengths. They took time to create simple rituals that are still a part of our lives today. When it was someones birthday, that child was able to choose where they wanted to go for a special birthday meal, with just mom and dad. They had a "red plate" that was a special glass plate that was brought on on special occasions, but also on more ordinary times when my mom thought we needed to honor a family member. We sing a special song after the traditional "Happy Birthday" song that I have shared with my son and with my friends/framily. I always had someone to play with, and we had a very happy childhood. My parents instilled in us the value of hard work and serving others. They also lived with love... their love is something to behold. Their love taught us respect and how to work through challenges.
Now that I am a parent, I have a whole new appreciation for all of the big (and little) things they did for our family. My mom is still just a text away and I have sent her countless messages asking for her guidance on things with our son, but also with life.
Every night before bed, my son and I talk about all of the people in his life that love him. We talk about his Grammy and Grampy, and his aunts and uncles, and his Grandma and Grandpa, and we also talk about those friends who are family. I want our son to know about love in this world. I want him to notice it, and I want him to give it away freely. I want him to know that there are scary things and sad things, but when you are on the side of love, it will work out. I want him to love the earth and all of the people on this huge planet. I want him to love the plants and animals, and know how to take care of those things. I want him to love himself. To know how special he is for his unique qualities. I want him to know that others are just as special and that our differences can bring people together.
Things can change so fast, and it is so important for children to know that they have a group of people who are there for them, no matter what. No matter what. I used to use the word "tribe" but I feel like tribe can be exclusive, or something that you have to earn membership to.
Are families perfect? No way. It is through those imperfections that we learn how to deal with the world. We learn to love ourselves and forgive ourselves. We learn that we are all connected, each and every person on this planet.
What rituals or routines do you practice with your child to mark the ordinary days, and the special days?
Beth is a mom first and foremost. She is also a trained Montessori teacher who is passionate about making the lofty ideals of the Montessori philosophy more real and manageable for families.