Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting Back to Nature

Yesterday's blog focused on some fun ideas involving trees and getting outside for the fall. I wanted to write a bit today about kids and nature.

I would love to tell you I'm some huge outdoor fan, but I'm not. Since I was a little kid, I was always the kind of person who would much more prefer to be curled up with a good book than hiking through the woods. However, one of the things I clearly remember is how much fun I had playing outside with my friends. Whether we were creating our own games or riding our bikes, outside play was always exciting to me. When I was in elementary school, I became fascinated with all sorts of things involving nature, especially at night. Owls, comets, stars, was all fascinating to me, and most excellent reasons to stay up late!

Recently, there has been a lot of focus in early childhood literature on how disconnected children have become from nature. This disconnection didn't happen overnight. In fact, as a child of the seventies, I think some of this disconnect was occurring even then. As our technological and electronic worlds have expanded, our needs to be outside have lessened. Many children no longer spend extended lengths of time outside exploring the world around them. We have increased risks of obesity, allergies, and asthma. We are becoming a people who cannot even tolerate our own outside world.

What do children lose when they are cut off from nature? I would argue that we all lose a large part of our very essence, a part of us that connects us to the earth and the life cycle. The more disconnect we feel from our world, the easier it is to push aside the emerging dangers that our world is suffering from: ozone depletion, pollution, animal and plant extinction, and global warming, among others. We lose a part of our humanity.

In an effort to reconnect with nature, there is a strong push for teachers and parents to think about getting kids outside and involved with the world around them. I was recently reading an article about a preschool that is held outside in the woods. The school has been open for several years and has no actual building to house it. Instead, with the assistance of teachers, children have created all sorts of structures to serve as shelter as needed. Days are spent exploring the woods, learning about plants and animals, and following the children's ideas of what is needed to survive in this type of habitat. Unusual? For sure. But a program like this, allowing for tremendous interaction with nature, is certain to help children develop a connection with the natural world.

So what about those of us who aren't signing our children up for a preschool in the woods? Or for teachers who have a whole class of children and can't teach an entire day outside? I think, for me, one of the most important components in providing a strong nature education is opportunity. Giving kids the opportunity to explore the world around them, particularly outdoors, is critical in helping them to construct ideas about their world as well as to develop an appreciation for it. Activities such as gardening, nature walks, raking leaves, or picking up litter are easy ways to build a connection to the earth.

A couple of years ago, my family was returning home on a Friday evening after having dinner. We decided to drive down by a local lake, just enjoying the beautiful weather and our time together. It was twilight, and as we got closer to the lake, the traffic diminished and there were several wooded areas. As we approached one clearing, we all gasped in surprise and pulled over. In the clearing, literally five miles from our home, were several deer grazing on the grass. Does, bucks, and fawns all together grazed a mere fifteen yards from us. We were joined by several other onlookers, all of us silent--including the many children--taking in a once in a lifetime moment. Many times, the deer looked up at us, then moved a few feet to graze some more as we humans stood in awe of these beautiful animals. The memory of that evening burned strongly in each of our brains. My hope for my own children is that they remember moments like that, and understand that they share a fragile ecosystem with many, many living creatures.

What are your thoughts about children and nature? How do you provide meaningful experiences for kids? Thanks for reading and remember to click on our sponsors!


  1. This for some reason might seem a daunting task for some parents and teachers. Teachers bound by their time constraints and parents with a plateful of other things to do and think about. I find though that children (especially young ones)don't need much. Any small gathering of trees, dirt and branches if a place of hidden wonders. The children at the daycare I used to work at loved visiting "the wilderness", which was a small patch of trees across the street. My son recently spent an hour hiking the wilderness and building structures for animals in a strip of trees just behind the hair salon!

  2. Isn't it funny the "miracles" kids can find in just about any setting? I really think the trick is to give enough time for exploration. Most children have a natural curiosity to explore if given the opportunity!

  3. A great way we incorporate the outdoors as a complement to academics at my school is through gardening. I teach at a primary school (grades pre-k through 1st) and we receive a grant through Real School Gardens ( We are able to use it as we have time and for the early grades it's a terrific science lesson. We weed, plant, make predictions, compare and contrast, and write in our science journals each week about what we observe. There are MANY grants out there to help schools get kids outside and learning for schools like mine who would otherwise have a difficult time funding these endeavors. For anyone who can't seem to shove some nature time into a busy elementary schedule, try to find a way to coordinate it with academics and it will not only get kids more involved with nature, it will strengthen their understanding of what you're studying inside the classroom.