A Beginner's Guide to Noticing Nature

Beginner’s Guide to Noticing Nature

snail-2760079_1280The child sees everything in a state of newness… Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a small child absorbs form and colour.

-Charles Baudelaire

The title of this post could be interpreted in a couple of ways: One – it is directed at those who are new to paying closer attention to nature and might be seeking some guidance. Two – the “beginner” can be thought of as a child and it is from this child one can best learn how to notice nature. I write this post in the spirit of the latter as I believe children hold a special gift – a gift for truly seeing the wonder around them.

So how do children do it? And how can we reclaim our child-like attention and see the world anew? Here are ten gifts of childhood and how you can reconnect to them to help you notice nature more keenly…

  1. Be curious! Everything is new for young children and they begin their days ready to explore and experiment. When you have an open heart and an open mind, everything is interesting and worth investigating. Trying to recapture a child-like curiosity is a matter of mindset. When you are in nature, view your surroundings as if everything is new to you, as if you are seeing it for the first time. Begin to notice colors, light & shadows, shapes, textures, sounds, contrasts, etc. Move in for closer inspection and notice smaller details. The more you notice, the more you’ll want to continue noticing. As Walt Disney said, “…curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”.
  2. Know that everything holds wonder. Curiosity seems to go hand in hand with wonderment – that feeling of finding beauty or amazement in the unfamiliar, of sensing the magic of life. By ‘magic’ I mean an awareness of a force larger than ourselves that unites all life. We don’t need to understand it only simply feel it. Set logic aside and allow yourself to be amazed over the very existence of the variety of life around you.
  3. Live in the moment. Children are fully immersed in what they are doing in any given moment. They are not thinking about what they’ll do next or worrying about a to-do list. They are present and engaged with the subject at hand. While adults don’t have the luxury of not being concerned with schedules and to-dos, we can take full advantage of even the shortest moments in nature. Take some deep breaths and be mindful of sensations and your movements & emotions.
  4. Get excited about small things. Children don’t need grand adventures or unusual finds to excite them. Their curiosity and wonder allows them to marvel over the commonplace and find joy in noticing things they haven’t before. Practice being curious, noticing nature, & wondering and one day you’ll find that you also get excited about the small things. If you follow my Instastories, you’ll know I totally nerded out recently over finding wild cranberries.
  5. Believe anything is possible. Children’s imaginations are limitless, aren’t they? Fairies may be watching as you stroll through the woods; you can build a castle of sand to live in; a butterfly may come down to rest on your shoulder and whisper secrets in your ear; you might swing so high you could jump off and land on a cloud. While adults may only allow such indulgence while engaged in play with a child, we can carry a similar spirit of playfulness and openness to magical experiences. Embrace serendipity. You never know where it may lead you.
  6. Engage your senses to observe closely. Children touch, smell, listen, taste, and use their whole bodies when exploring nature. They gather information in a personal and meaningful way. When was the last time you felt a leaf, both top and under sides? Or sniffed a broken twig? Or looked at nature through a magnifying glass? Don’t be self-conscious about investigating nature more closely (refer to #9). Get personal and you might be amazed at what you notice.
  7. Follow your interests. Watch a child at play and you may notice that they flow seamlessly from one idea to another and that new materials are easily incorporated into the current activity. You may also notice that at times they completely drop one activity for another that has grabbed their attention. Follow their lead. Go out in nature from time to time with no agenda. When something has grabbed your attention, don’t think – go with it and allow yourself to be inspired.
  8. Hold no expectations. Young children do not explore nature with preconceived notions or judgement. Everything is interesting and worth investigating. They also explore without an agenda in mind. They are open to whatever experience may present itself. Try to let go of your learned attitudes and do not critique your experience. Just let the experience come and go with it.
  9. Be uninhibited. Children do not worry about what others may think of them and their actions. They are clear on what they want to do in the moment and do it. They feel free to express the full range of their emotions as they experience them. When you are in nature, allow yourself to explore whatever and however you’d like (with respect and reason, of course), abandon any pretenses you have and let your emotions wash over you. Invite others to join you and share in the uninhibited joy of noticing nature. Squish your toes in that mud! Roll across the grass! Climb a tree! I’m sure my neighbors think me a bit strange for always staring so closely at the trees in our yard but I don’t care because I discover things like these…
  10. Build on previous knowledge & experiences. Children learn something new with each repetition, gain a comfort level to probe deeper, and eventually begin to make connections. They discover relationships and notice irregularities. While you are observing nature, make “this reminds me of…” statements. Try finding a connection between seemingly unrelated objects (my kids and I love to revisit this activity from time to time).

So, what do you think? Are you ready to reconnect with your inner child and let wonder lead the way? What are you waiting for… get outside and notice nature!

P.S. If you were hoping for some practical tips to help the children in your life notice nature, check out my Helping Young Children Notice Nature post.

Fondly,

Monique

 

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts – July 2016

Noticing Nature - July 2016: Nature prompts for children and their families

Hello again.  Happy July!  I hope you are enjoying the season so far.  We’re loving the summer weather and enjoying every moment.  You can check out some of what we’ve been getting up to on Instagram.

Some of this month’s prompts are related to a couple of global citizen science events – National Moth Week and World Listening Day.  All of the following prompts are meant to encourage your children to notice the often unnoticed – the variety of sounds in our surroundings, how sounds effect the way we experience our environment, and the variety of life that exists right in our yards.  Whether noticing nature is a part of your everyday life or you seek to get started, these simple nature prompts will provide some fresh inspiration.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Soundscape Inventory

Our experiences in nature are greatly enhanced when we tune in with all of our senses and there is growing research on the health benefits of listening to natural sounds.  But perhaps listening is becoming a dying art.

Kurt Fristrup, a senior scientist at the US National Park Service reports that “There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to.” (ref)

Help your child practice listening skills and deepen experiences in nature by tuning in to the sounds of nature and creating a soundscape inventory.  It’s as simple as finding a comfortable place outside to sit quietly and paying attention to what you hear.  I found that sitting with eyes closed can be very helpful for focusing auditory attention.  This takes only a few minutes and can be done in your yard, during a hike, or while visiting a park.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Who’s There?

The other day I went to the backyard to photograph some feathers (more on that soon!).  I lay down a white poster board and before I could pick up the feathers at least four different little critters had hopped or crawled aboard.  A couple were so tiny that I don’t think I ever would have noticed their existence in the lawn.  You may have experienced something similar if you hang your laundry out to dry.  I have brought in many accidental hitchhikers this way.

Head outside, lay down a white poster board or large piece of paper, and see who shows up.  Notice how many different critters appear and how long they stay.  What if you used a different color paper – say blue or black?  Try it and note any differences.

Noticing Nature - July 2016: Nature prompts for children and their families.

Silent Sharing Nature Walk

This activity is adapted from Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.  Walk silently with your child through an area surrounded by nature.  When one of you notices something of interest, find a non-verbal way to share it with the other. Continue for as long as your child is engaged, staying silent the whole time.  Walking and noticing in silence will promote a sense of calm and allow you and your child to be fully present in the moment.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Meet Some Moths

National Moth Week takes place July 23rd through the 31st and it’s the perfect opportunity to gain a better appreciation for this cousin of butterflies.

I grew up thinking that all moths were brown and nothing but a nuisance at night when trying to get in the door. But since having children and spending time noticing nature with them, I have discovered so much more about them.

For this prompt, you’ll be attracting moths with moth bait.  You can find a recipe and tips here.  The most important thing to keep in mind with the bait is that it should be paste-like and not runny.  Try painting the bait on trees in your yard during the day to observe any diurnal (there’s that nature word of the month!) moths that may want a free snack.  Head out just before it gets dark to see crepuscular moths and again once it’s dark to see the nocturnal variety.

Resources to spark interest:

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Don’t forget to download and the July nature prompts before you go.  Print and hang them up so they’ll be easy to find whenever you need a little inspiration for noticing nature.

Fondly,
Monique