The following article was submitted to Nature Play Qld earlier this year to contribute to their blog. The message was so relevant that we wanted to share it here too!
These days it seems like we are regularly bombarded by messages, information and advice about our environment. As a parent or child care professional, this bombardment seems to go up a few more notches as we try to make the best choices for the children in our care in terms of their health, development and their own growing knowledge of the world around them. From advice to choose from including eating organic foods, using chemical free sun cream, living a sustainable lifestyle and trying to reduce pollution, every aspect of our lives is inundated with an overload of “environmental” information!
So where do we start? What is truly important? Well, the short answer is that all of it is important – so the reality is that prioritising things to help us feel a little less overwhelmed is a good place to begin. From my point of view, as both a mum and environmental educator, the answer is: whatever you believe to be important on a day-to-day level is what your children will also view as important. And when I personally start to look at the facts, the value of protecting our earth and all of its diversity and complexity is beyond measure! In fact, we need a healthy environment in order to sustain life! What is more important than that?
At Natura Education, we focus our energies on introducing young children to some of the basics. Our aim is to inspire them and hopefully light the flame of curiosity so that they will explore these concepts a little further in their own time and space. The long-term outcome will of course vary as widely as the personalities and futures of the children themselves, so although some may follow a path where they embrace all aspects of this concept – organic gardening, protecting our animals and encouraging others to do the same – others may simply stop every now and again and appreciate the beauty all around them and know that taking care of it is worthwhile. Both outcomes, and everything in between, are a valuable gift in anyone’s life!
OK, so let’s delve a little deeper! Is there more to it than just ‘saving the planet’ (as important as this is)? The answer is absolutely! Research confirms that children who are given the opportunity to connect with nature are also reaping the benefits of things such as reduced stress, improved social skills, enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills, better self-discipline and even improved eyesight, to name just a few. So in reality, it would seem that we as human beings need our natural world just as much as it needs us. The ability to care for that alone is an innate part of all of us!
As a city girl now living in the bush it has been interesting to see how many of my thoughts and beliefs have shifted and changed since I have found myself more regularly surrounded by a natural environment. This change has steadily gravitated towards a greater consciousness of the natural world and a greater desire to move towards healthy living – so to speak. Becoming a mother has also significantly changed my perspective, as I’m sure all parents will agree, as I find myself embracing all those fantastic questions that come from a child’s natural curiosity of the world around them – Why is the sky blue? How does the bee get its honey? Why is it raining and sunny at the same time? And the list goes on! Trying to answer those questions factually can be tricky – and even after 20 years in childcare my answers are still often along the lines of “Well, mother nature likes it that way!”
Now in my new role at Natura Education I am working with a team of educators that are involved in teaching children as young as two years of age, right through primary and high school and then on to adults of the wider community. With early childhood being my forte, I have loved being involved in creating a set of intentional teaching methods to ensure the youngest children experiencing our lessons are both motivated and inspired, and are given every opportunity to learn through hands-on experiences. We believe that when children have the opportunity to explore freely and literally get their hands dirty, then the wonder of nature has the power to transform and pique the curiosity of even the most “I don’t like worms” kind of kid! From mini beasts to water bugs, reptiles and Australian animals to recycling and composting (worms included!) – we are simply offering children a new idea – a new way of thinking – a new experience – and the children, and their endless curiosity, honestly do the rest!
You can easily incorporate this way of thinking and being too! As carers, parents and educators all we need to do is just provide the setting and the opportunity and watch the magic take place. Even on those days when you are really not sure the sun is ever going to shine on your three year old again (and we have all been there!), taking them to the beach to run free or out into the rain to jump in muddy puddles can be enough to turn the day into something special, something they will remember and something they will learn from. Go exploring, go adventuring! Put away those I-phones, switch off that laptop and turn off the TV – just get out there as much as you can!
Natural and healthy living as well as a natural and healthy way of thinking will simply become part of a child’s life as they grow and mature as long as we plant and nurture the seed. There are so many opportunities all around us and I can guarantee that city girl or country boy alike we can all find some part of nature that inspires us.
We would love to see you getting your family inspired and adding any good photos of your family’s nature play days as well as your ideas! In fact we are currently running a competition to see what your best ideas and photos are. By sharing on our facebook or instagram page for the month of August, you can be in the running to win a ‘Kids Projects: Pretty garden buddies stone mosaic kit’. The best photo or idea will be announced on our facebook page on the 1st of September. We can’t wait to see your ideas – but most of all we hope you are excited as we are to get out there and have some fun too.
The Natura Education Team
Selected excerpts from Children and Nature Network (www. childrenandnature.org/research/), Annotated Bibliographies of Research and Studies, Volumes 1 and 2 (2007).
Research – 23 July 2015 – Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature: Why Naturalize Outdoor Learning Environments January 2012 www.naturalearning.org.
Natura Education is an Official Nature Play QLD Activity Provider