Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” – Thomas Berry
Most of us realize that our natural environment needs protection and that if we want our children to have natural spaces to seek refuge in, we all need to do what we can to save those open spaces. Also, as parents, many of us know intuitively that having our children go outside is “good for them.”
Here are a couple of great reasons to go with this intuitive feeling. First, we “become” what our mind is patterned by; what our senses absorb become reality. We only know and care about what is in our own reality. If our children are outside on a regular basis, their minds will “pattern” on nature, and they will develop a deep connection to nature, and thus a deep caring and concern to preserve our natural environment. Second, when immersed in nature, all of our senses are constantly being stimulated, encouraging complex thoughts and critical thinking skills.
You and your children can start in your own back yard. Many of us have become aliens in our own yards. Do you know five edible plants that are growing near your back door? Where does the sun rise in the summer and in the winter?
Think back to what you likes to do outside when you were young, and do it now with your child. (When was the last time you played hide-and-seek in a meadow, or stalked up, quietly, to a rabbit, just to see how close you could get?). Go for a wander in the woods with no destination in mind, just go find beauty and ask lots of questions. Look at animal tracks. Who has passed through your yard today? Yesterday? Who lives there? Where? What do they eat? Where are they right now? Look at the mark on that tree—I wonder who made that? Which way is the wind blowing right now? Where is that bird that you hear? What is it saying?
I have found that the most effective way for children to become comfortable with nature is to have them find a place where they can sit in silence—their “sit spot.” In roughly fifteen minutes, if they are completely still and quiet, the wildlife around them will return to normal activity. The birds will begin their baseline songs, and animals may walk nearby.
Encourage them to go there every day. Hey, you could even model the behavior by going to your own sit spot. It may just help them realize that they are part of something larger than themselves. Spending a few still moments in nature will give them perspective and balance.
Unless our children make nature personal, they will continue to be aliens on their own planet and destroy the environment through ignorance. Let’s all go outside—see you in the woods!
To learn more check out Tom Brown’s books, specifically Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children and Field Guide to the Forgotten Wilderness.
Julie Kulik is the director of Earth Arts, where children and adults go to explore their creativity and connect to nature. For a schedule of current programs, visit EarthArtsIthaca.org