Especially for Parents: More on Children and Nature

by Angie Williams

On Earth Day, EFC’s administrative team had the opportunity to attend a training at Dodge Nature Preschool. The purpose of the training was to explore the ways in which the program at Dodge engages children (no matter what the weather!) in learning through nature play. Those of us in more traditional early childhood settings were excited to think more deeply about how the ideas, activities, and philosophies of a nature preschool can be brought into our environments. We know that nature has so much to teach children—from sensory experiences to observations of life cycles to gross motor challenges, in addition to the mental and emotional health benefits of fresh outdoor air.

The training also had me thinking about my own family and how I can help our children experience nature more fully. Though the long winter and chilly spring have been less than inviting for outdoor experiences, we know that warmer temperatures will be here soon (and also that, apparently , there is no such thing as bad weather if one is properly dressed—easier said than done some days 😊).

After the training, I decided I wanted to create a tool to help enhance the experience of nature for our daughters, niece and nephews. My daughters and I made Field Journals that they can use on a walk or hike to record their observations, draw what they see, ask questions, and more.

One of the things I plan to do is to ask them to visit the same spot in a natural several times throughout the spring, summer, fall, and even winter to observe how the area changes throughout the seasons. How do the colors change? Do they notice different insects or plants at different times of the year? What about different sounds or smells? Does the spot they chose make them feel differently in any way as it changes?

These questions can be posed to preschoolers and older children, but infants and toddlers can also engage in the experience. Caregivers can make the observations, teaching younger children new vocabulary words, introducing them to new objects, and planting the seeds of inquiry-based learning. The sensory experience of nature for children of all ages is so important too—brushing grass or leaves against an infant’s skin, letting a toddler crush a dandelion and noticing the yellow it leaves behind, giving a preschooler the opportunity to jump off a stump that may be a bit tall in the summer, but when landing in a pile of snow is just right.

Perhaps you can use some of these ideas the next time you are outdoors with your child to deepen their relationship between nature and learning. We wish you much fun as you enjoy these next inviting seasons!