Children and nature go together—or they should. Recent studies record the importance of introducing children beginning in the early years to the natural world. Their social, emotional, and physical health depends on this exposure to be developed. And because we are part of nature, as adults, we must do what we can to ensure that our children have opportunities to get close and personal with their environment.
Being surrounded by nature and natural items provides infinite benefits to children: It instills a sense of beauty and calmness. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder reveals that in an urban environment, our brains are constantly forced to ignore distractions just to allow us to focus on tasks on hand, while natural environments provide us with an effortless type of attention known as “soft fascination” that creates feelings of pleasure, rather than fatigue.
The outside world also exposes children to things that are alive and growing and promotes curiosity and exploration. With the proper guidance of an adult, children can learn about being gentle and respecting living things because to observe nature, it requires patience and quiet watchfulness. Children’s imagination also comes into play as they use natural items to create stories and play. All senses become engaged when children interact with the natural world.
“Children observe, listen, feel, taste, and take apart while exploring everything in their environment” (Carol Seefeldt Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of human development, Institute for Child Study, University of Maryland, College Park; 2005). Having children involved in their environment also gets them moving. Just by riding a bike through the park or even taking a stroll will get their blood pumping. Not only is exercise good for their bodies, but it seems to make them more focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD. Studies have also shown that when young children spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, and this reduces the richness of human experience (Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, 2008).
Teachers and parents alike can also present wonderful opportunities to introduce language and literacy to children through nature. By providing real objects, children feel a strong connection to nature because they have direct experience with it. We also help children, including infants, associate words with the concrete objects they represent. According to Seefeldt, “Through projects or investigations children become acquainted with words new to them and incorporate these into their vocabulary”. Ultimately, our role is to facilitate our children’s thinking and learning as they discover meaningful experiences that will deepen their understanding about the world that they live in.
Our world is a great teacher that never gives up teaching. The variety of experiences and lessons it offers is just amazing. Take a single drop of water, for example; see how it is transformed into a complete miniature world under a microscope! A worm that your child digs up, when they are planting with you in a garden, aerates the soil so that the plant’s roots can findfood and an anchor that will possibly allow it to grow into a majestic tree that gives us flowers and shade in the summer, or delicious fruit to savor.
A child’s appreciation of our world deepens with every act of caring. It is not enough to learn about our world: What is learned must eventually lead to caring. And caring starts with little acts around the house: picking up their toys, feeding the pet fish, turning off the lights, caring for a small plant, watering the garden. All these acts, and many, many more, are acts of love for our world. They make this world a more beautiful place to live in, and in return, helps us grow into more caring individuals. It’s a partnership, our world and us, and we have to teach our children how important it is to do their share in caring for it.
Here are some ways we can all care for our world. With just a few simple changes, we can make a big difference:
* Start your family with recycling. Here is a fun fact: Did you know that recycling one ton of paper saves about 17 trees? And, if you recycle just one glass jar, you would have saved enough energy to power a light bulb for four hours!
* Instead of throwing away leftover food, turn this into compost. This can be used as an ideal and inexpensive fertilizer for your garden or potted plants
* Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth
* Buy cloth bags and use them instead of plastic bags for groceries
* Pick up trash when you see it
* Don’t pluck out plants that you see around. Enjoy their beauty and allow others to enjoy them, too. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment develops responsibility because they see first-hand what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.