If you are new to noticing nature with children or would like to encourage a child to spend more time noticing nature, the following simple tips may be just the help you need…
Get outside. This might be obvious but it can be a challenge for many of us. Busy schedules, unfavorable weather, and not knowing what to do or where do go can keep us inside. But you don’t need to go far. The nature right outside your door holds many natural wonders. Notice the sights, sounds & smells around you. Look high and low. Slow down and use ALL your senses to make some observations.
Be a role model. When you are out in nature with your child, role model curiosity and enthusiasm for nature. Point out what you are noticing, from the smallest flower to the tallest tree. Wonder aloud. Ask your child what they hear, see, smell, feel and notice. Be intentional about it doing it regularly. Soon it will become habit for you and your child whenever you are outside.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”
– Rachel Carson
Start with the familiar. It may be less intimidating to start right in your own backyard or a favorite outdoor spot. Stop and look at a familiar tree or outdoor planter. Keep visiting this spot and you may start notice things that you didn’t the time before.
Follow your child’s interests. It doesn’t matter if your child is more interested in rocks or birds, would rather feel things than listen to them. Be flexible and remember that if his/her attention is engaged, the experience will be more meaningful.
Start small. You’ll be amazed what you can find by turning over a rock or log or carefully looking at one particular plant. One good activity is marking off a one-foot square patch of ground and taking the time to notice all the living things and their activities in that small area. It may be helpful to have a magnifying glass handy.
Respect differing learning styles. Not all children find it easy to sit and quietly observe. Is the child active and likes more physical activities? Let them roll in the grass, jump in a leaf pile, stack rocks, pretend to be an animal or bird that he/she saw. Is the child more of a quiet observer? Let her/him take photos or videos or draw what they see. Are tactile, fine motor activities his/her thing? Paint with pine needles, press small nature finds into clay, make a bark rubbing. Allow children to express through their preferred senses.
Take a closer look. Once something has grabbed your child’s interest, go with them to explore it further. Allow him/her some quiet time to observe the details. Get out your magnifying glass. Observe up close and from different angles. Notice sights, sounds, smells, textures, patterns, colors. 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.
Ask questions. Be a “nature detective”. Ask questions to encourage deeper observations: What do you notice about…? How does it feel/sound/smell/etc? How does it compare to…? I notice that…why do you think that is? Look for clues. Think of other things it may remind you of.
Bring nature in. Collecting the nature that excites your child is an affirmation of her/his interests. Displaying the items with some resources (field guides, books, magnifying glass, etc.) may lead to continued investigation and will keep the spark alive. note: please be sure to collect responsibly
Most of all, be patient and have fun.
I hope these tips will get you off to a good start.
For further inspiration, you may enjoy these resources:
- Nurturing a Sense of Wonder
- Children and Nature
- Why We Must Protect and Nurture Our Children’s Sense of Wonder
- Green Acorns Nature Prompt Bundle
If you would like ways that you yourself can reclaim your child-like attention and see the world anew, check out Beginner’s Guide to Noticing Nature.