With this year’s theme ‘Listen to the Young Voices’ the UN acknowledges the influence young people have on the future of our planet.
What we can do as parents and educators is encourage children to engage with and learn about our natural and wild environment, forming a lifelong bond with our world’s life source.
Today I’ll share with you how to initiate nature encounters for young children age 3-6. Maria Montessori recognised this as a general age for the development of the senses:
Whereas the child used to absorb by gazing at the world while people carried him about, now he shows an irresistible tendency to touch everything … He is continuously busy, happy, always doing something with his hands.” (Montessori, p. 168) The hands, Montessori says, become a “prehensile organ of the mind.” (Montessori, p. 168)
But not only do they want to be busy, they want to develop their independence.
It is as though he were saying: ‘I want to do everything myself. Now, please don’t help me.’(Montessori, p. 170)
These are two main ideas that are prevalent in Montessori’s writings to keep in mind when providing activities for child under 6.
So it hardly needs mentioning that natural textures are a joy for the young ones to explore. Try…
If you have a garden at home then you have a great place to start. Your child can be involved in many things with your instruction, and with the right sized tools. Or, look around your town to find a community garden you can join. Consider how you might give a lesson to your child on the following:
- Do a sun map of your garden See: http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/How_to_map_your_garden__39__s_sun_exposure/
- Composting. See: http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html
- Keep a worm farm – http://www.piteraq.dk/ecology/wormfarm.html
- Growing seedlings
- Planting out
- Pruning – yes, even young children can do this with mindful instruction. Think carefully how you will instruct and manage the risks before introducing these.
- Raking leaves
- Hand pollinating
- Removing pests
As you can see the list goes on and on of what a young child can do in the garden. As community and home gardeners my daughter and I have done all of the above together. It has been an enriching experience for the both of us.
If you spend any time at the beach you’ll see your child looking up and down the shoreline at everything washed up. Let them explore and take it one step further and make something. Sandcastle, a cake, a treasure box for the ocean. Use your imagination to make the experience alive. Focus on textures too. Say ‘look, this shell is different to that one. Can you feel this one is rough? This one is smooth.” And so on.
Sometimes DD and I also play the wave sound game. We stand at the water’s edge with our backs to the ocean. When we hear the waves crash we know the water will touch us soon so that’s the cue to run up the sand before it can get to us. Then we creep back down as we hear the water retreat.
Nature Treasure Hunting
Take a walk to the park and look together for anything interesting that you see in a group. Eg. lots of pine cones dropped from the trees, leaves, sticks, seed pods, flowers, stones etc.
Think of a way for your child to sort the material. Do they vary in colour, shape, size, texture. Once sorted, the items can be used to make eco art. Be sure to leave your beautiful treasures behind for the birds to enjoy!
Care for a Chrysalis
We were fortunate enough to experience the emerging of a butterfly from a chrysalis that was given to us by a local butterfly expert. It was handed to us when we were volunteer gardening in our local butterfly park. I normally wouldn’t want to take an animal from its habitat but we were told the caterpillars were being attacked by a pest on the vine and we were helping the breeding program. Luckily, it survived and we could let it free outside. This is a show your child won’t forget. Get to know your local naturalists to find out more.
Weaving, Printing and Other Crafts
There are a number of things you can do with found items in combination with craft materials. Try:
- Using a forked branch as a weaving loom with coloured yarn. Have the child weave in and out, around the 2 stems then use it as a frame for other objects.
- Make a boat using seed pods, twigs and leaves to float down a creek.
- Paint different types of leaves and print them onto paper.
- Make a leaf rubbing by placing paper on a leaf and rubbing the paper with a crayon until the impression appears
- Collect flowers and press them in a heavy book then use them to make cards
- Soak scented flowers to make perfumed water for a spray. DD tried this once with frangipanni’s and requests often to do it again.
- Make a pet rock: if you find a small, smooth rock a child might like to paint it with a face. Add googly eyes for extra cuteness.
- If you come across flexible twigs weave them with leaves to make a crown.
- Stitch a daisy chain or cloverchain
It’s important to note the value of free play in nature. If you can regularly spend time outdoors with your children and their friends they will discover so much that planned activities won’t allow for. Plan for extended free play by bringing anything you need with you – sun protection, picnic mat, drinking water, a towel, spare clothing, food, insect repellent…anything you can to make the day comfortable for everyone. Last thing you want is complaints shortly after you arrive.
If your child comes to you and complains of boredom be prepared to direct their focus towards cloud watching, or to count how many birds you hear or to play pretend or to move to another location even. Imagination is infectious!
Children love a sensory garden. Find out if you have one in your local botanic gardens to visit, or better still, grow your own. There are many different herbs and succulents that are lovely to touch, smell and sometimes taste. Some examples:
- Lamb’s ears Stachys byzantina
- Choc peppermint
- Blue chalk (succulent)
- Jade plant (succulent)
- Sensitive plant Mimosa pudica
- Indian Borage
There are too many ideas to mention on this blog for getting children of 3-6 enjoying nature. Most importantly, make the opportunity by first being there. Your park, trails, beach, garden, wherever is easy to regularly venture out; take the time to enjoy it with your child and see the many benefits to their health and well-being.