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.
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.