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

 

Wednesday Walks: Staying close to home

Wednesday Walks - Close to Home

My goodness, it has been a while since I have shared one of our weekly walks! I’ve missed sharing nature with you.

On this day we headed out for an after dinner stroll through our neighborhood. We wanted to stretch our legs and enjoy the pleasant summer evening. All the lovely, interesting things we noticed in nature was an added perk.

Before I share what we noticed though, let’s talk about the benefits of this simple activity…

  • It’s good for your soul – Going for a walk will get you away from distractions so you can spend quality time with your loved ones. Or maybe some quality time with yourself.
  • It’s good for your mind – Taking an outdoor stroll reduces stress, promotes creativity and improves concentration & memory.
  • It’s good for your body – Walking helps aid digestion, lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure. A walk outside helps fill your vitamin D needs, increases oxygen intake and can even improve eyesight.
  • Being outside is just plain good for you, whatever your age!

Now on to all the nature goodness!

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There were so many Queen Anne’s Lace in bloom. It can be found blooming at all different stages simultaneously so you really get see what it looks like in each phase. Each one is beautiful!

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This is the time of year that net-winged beetles seem to be out in multitude. We’ve been noticing them everywhere lately.

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We noticed some ferns unfurling and Alder cones just developing.

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There is a small area abutting some woods that had been cleared fairly recently. Nature, of course, is already filling back in. We saw lots of Spreading Dogbane taking over – a plant we haven’t noticed in this area before.

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We found this Robin’s nest that had been blown out of a tree. Its base was quite large and heavy with dry mud and there were some lichen bits woven into it.

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Nearing home my son stopped to listen more closely to a rustling he heard in the leaf litter. Based on it movement, we’re thinking a little vole was under there.

What we thought was going to be a simple walk turned into a rich, nature-packed experience that invigorated all of our senses. It was such a treat!

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
-John Muir

What have you been noticing on your walks lately? If you’d like one of your walks featured here on the blog, let’s chat. I’d love for us all to share our nature finds!

Fondly,
Monique

P.S. If you would like to join a welcoming, supportive group where you will find inspiration for deeper personal connections with nature throughout the year, join me at my private FB group – Noticing Nature 2017. I’d love to see you there!

Noticing Nature – Nature Prompts: March 2017

Noticing Nature - Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families_ March 2017.jpg

Marcescent Plants

The nature word of the month is “marcescent” so your challenge is to take notice of the marcescent trees in your area.  Add some sketches of the leaves to your nature journal or take photos and display them on your nature shelf.  Don’t forget to add the date, the location you found the tree, and the type of tree (if you don’t know this would make a wonderful investigation activity).

winter shades of green

Shades of Green

Year after year my children and I are amazed at how many shades of green we notice during the winter months, even when there is a thick layer of snow covering the ground.  I shared this colors of fall color wheel as part of the October nature prompts and since it was so popular, I thought I would create one to use for a shades of green nature hunt.  How many can you match?  If you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, going on a green nature hunt is a perfect activity to tie in to the day’s fun.

Download the Shades of Green color wheel, print it on card stock (for durability you could also laminate it or glue cut out wheel to an empty cereal box), and get hunting!

Winter Tree Bud Nature Hunt

Did you know that usually by mid-summer deciduous trees have formed their buds for the following spring?  Winter is a great time to get out and observe the variety of buds as they are easy to spot on the bare branches.  You might be amazed at the variety of shapes, sizes, colors and arrangements.

You can find some helpful resources in the ‘Identifying Winter Trees‘ post but here is some terminology to know before you head out:

Arrangement

Like the branches of a tree, its buds also grow in certain arrangements:

  • opposite –  structures (branches, buds, leaves) grow in pairs from opposite sides of the twig at the same level
  • alternate – structures grow singly from the twig without another leaf directly across the twig
  • whorled – three or more structures grow from the same level on the twig

The scales of a bud, if present, also have unique arrangements:

  • imbricate – multiple scales that overlap each other like shingles
  • valvate – 2 to 3 scales that do not overlap
  • naked – there are no scales covering the leaf bud

Shape

If you’d like to learn the specific names of the various shapes that tree buds, this is an easy to understand resource with drawings and matching photos.

Once you have reviewed this vocabulary, print off the ‘Tree Bud Bingo‘ sheet (we like to laminate ours for repeated use), grab your Bingo marker and see how many different tree buds you can spot.

winter tree bud bingo

You can build on this activity by trying this longer-term tree bud observation.

First Day of Spring Sit Spot

The first day of spring is March 20th and it’s the perfect time to (re)establish the routine of visiting a sit spot.  A sit spot is simply a special place in nature where you are comfortable sitting quietly and observing the nature around you.  It should be a spot you can access easily and regularly and have these qualities.  Right in your own backyard is a good place to start.

Once you and your child have found your special sit spots, spend some time just sitting quietly and observing.  Start with at least 5 minutes and slowly increase the time each visit.  If your child is quite young, sit with her.  Ask questions like: What sounds do you hear?   Do you notice any smells?  What’s the weather like?  Is there any animal activity?  What does the ground feel like?  What do you notice about the plants around you?  With practice, your child will become familiar with making these observations for herself.

Make sure that the sit spot is easily identifiable so that your child can return to the same spot each time.  Try to visit the spot once a month.  This will provide your child the opportunity to observe the changes that occur in nature throughout the seasons.  Through this practice, your child will feel a personal connection to the nature all around, will develop a strong sense of place and will have a sense of wonder that will be carried throughout her life.

Follow on Facebook and at Instagram to see what we notice from our sit spots on the first day of spring.

Download this month’s nature prompts here and print and hang them up where you can easily see them.  We post ours on our home-school morning board and review the prompts regularly.

Have fun noticing nature!

Fondly,
Monique

Nature by the Numbers – Nature Journal Prompts for Children: November 2015a wonder-filled week!

Nature by the Numbers - Nature Journal Prompts for Children: November 2015

This past weekend, my three children and I attended a family nature journaling/writing  workshop led by Andrea of the lovely blog, Remains of the Day.  We got reacquainted with blind contour drawing, which we haven’t done in a while.  Here’s a sampling of ours from that day:

blind contour drawing collage

We also learned some new drawing exercises and about creating a sensory map.  We were prompted to be mindful of our surroundings and awaken our senses as we moved to a different location.  As we walked, we created a map on which we recorded the relative location of what we saw, heard, smelled, etc.  It was a challenge and we all had to remind ourselves that it wasn’t about drawing just what we were seeing but to be aware of what our other senses were noticing.  My youngest daughter and I made a map together and recorded observations like the call of a nearby bird, the direction of a cool breeze, and the sound of leaves crunching as we walked on them.

If you are new to this activity, I would suggest trying it from a stationary location like your sit spot, especially for young children.  Like on a sound map, place an “X” on your sensory map to mark your location.

sensory map

We have also been participating in Dawn’s “Fall Outside” and one of the recent daily activities was a color hunt.  In the northeast the landscape has become quite brown and it seems like there is not much color to be found.  But it’s amazing what color variety can be found when you are tuned in to it.  Maybe you’ll notice a vibrant yellow fungus or a bright red berry or the blue of the sky reflecting off a leaf.

To help remind us that there is an abundance of color in nature we added some color swatches to a page in our nature journals and when we are outside, we’ll keep a look-out for those colors.  The object we found and where we saw it will be recorded next to the coordinating color swatch.  This is also a great activity to do with various shades of one color.  Challenge yourself to notice and record the many versions of a color.

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I hope you and your child will enjoy the prompts offered this month as much as my children and I are enjoying them.

If you’d like a copy to paste in your child’s journal, click the image below to download a printable version.

Nature by the Numbers - Nature Journal Prompts for Children: November 2015Have a wonder-filled week!

Fondly,
Monique