Have you heard of a nature exchange? Simply put, it’s collecting nature from your local environment and sharing it with someone who lives in a different part of the country (or world).
I first learned of the idea a few years ago on the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog and recently heard of it again from a group of lovely ladies that I connected with on Instagram who have banded together to organize an ongoing Nature Pal Exchange program. After seeing photos of amazing collections and reading about the impacts on children and their families, I couldn’t resist joining. I signed us up for the spring 2016 round and I’m so glad I did!
Whether you join an organized group like this or on your own send a nature collection to a family member or friend, I highly recommend giving nature exchange a try whatever your child’s age or level of interest in nature. It’s a terrific way to awaken a child’s enthusiasm for noticing nature and for fostering a deeper connection with your local environment. Plus it’s fun and you can be as creative as you want!
For the nature newbies
What you need: Participating in a nature exchange is a wonderful way to introduce children to the practice of noticing nature and to spark their curiosity. There’s no need for planning and you don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of the surrounding nature. When you go out to discover with your young one all you need is mindfulness and the willingness to role model curiosity. Let go of expectations and be fully present with your child.
What to do: Anytime that you are outside with your child, even in your own yard, make a point to stop and notice. Engage your child’s attention. Be playful. Share your observations. Ask “I wonder” questions. Take the opportunity to help your child focus his attention a little more each time you are outside. Nature provides unlimited opportunities for discovery. With time you will see his observational skills improve and his enthusiasm for nature grow.
Extending the experience: Collecting the nature that excites your child is an affirmation of his interest and will keep the spark alive. If you don’t already have a designated area in your home for displaying nature finds, this is the perfect time to create one. While you are collecting nature for your exchange, remember to collect two of each item – one to send and one to keep. Display appropriate items within your child’s reach so that he may explore them at any time. Depending on the child’s age, add magnifying glasses and resources or materials for play to the area.
Resources to inspire:
For young naturalists
For children that have some experience noticing nature and are motivated to do so, participating in a nature exchange can be a way to deepen their understanding. It provides the perfect opportunity for further inquiry, making connections, and forming hypothesis about the interconnections of life.
What you need: The most important thing you need for your experienced naturalist or older child is a desire to cultivate inquiry. It’s also helpful to have access to resources like field guides, apps, and books.
What to do: Provide resources and provocations, ask open-ended questions, help your child connect what he already knows, use your child’s questions to sprout more questions.
As your child considers what nature to include in the collection, encourage him to think about how the local wildlife may differ from that found in his pal’s environment. He may consider the difference in climate and how wildlife has adapted accordingly. His interest in geography may be piqued. The experience of participating in a nature exchange will be enhanced by these deeper investigations.
Extending the Experience: Encourage your child to record his observations in his nature journal. If he doesn’t have one already, capitalize on his enthusiasm and suggest he start keeping one. Create a “wonder” wall or journal to keep track of questions that your child would like to investigate. Use your nature area to support his growing interest and inspire further exploration.
Resources to inspire:
- Sharing discoveries and interests will help clarify and reinforce your child’s growing knowledge base
- Preparing the collected nature provides and opportunity for reflection on experiences and learning
- Personal bonds with nature will be established
- Exploring surrounding nature helps foster a sense of place
- Bonding with one’s own environment lays the foundation for future stewards of the environment
If you are interested in giving this activity a try but are feeling intimidated, remember that the act of noticing nature with your child and collecting & packaging specimens to share is alone a valuable experience. You need not go any further. Keep it simple and have fun! Hopefully the experience will be a catalyst for continuing your nature explorations.
An important note: Whether you join the Nature Pal Exchange group or create your own, please be sure to collect responsibly and follow these safety guidelines.