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…
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.