Children in nature retain their sense of wonder, however many children today are not being mentored into knowing and appreciating the natural world. Here’s how to change that.
By Wendy Priesnitz
Wonder is the art of observing and asking questions. Your child comes across a spider web and you pause together to look at the web. I wonder what that web is made of? Why do spiders make webs? How long does it take to make a web? How does a spider drink? What happens to the web when it rains? Wonder helps to humble us with the knowledge that there is always more to learn. And Nature is the best place to develop our sense of wonder. Unfortunately, many children today are not being mentored into knowing and appreciating the natural world.
Many parents are intimidated about sharing Nature with their children because they are worried that they won’t know the answers to their children’s questions. But it’s okay to learn alongside your children. When you and your child walk in Nature, take along a field guide or two, as well as a camera and a notebook. This will allow you both to gather information and find the answers later in a book or on the Internet. That way, you’ll be mentoring self-directed learning as well as helping your child discover Nature.
“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder … so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years.” ~Rachel Carson
Nature is everywhere, and experiencing it – either alone or with a young child – can be as simple as taking a walk. The natural spaces within walking distance of our homes are filled with any number of plants and animals that we can enjoy when we’re being with our young children in Nature.
Play tag. Pick dandelions. Blow their seeds away. Close your eyes and identify the sounds around you. Lie on the grass and watch the clouds. “Become” a tree. Or a butterfly. Sit down under a real tree and read a favorite story. Observe a spider building a web.
As adults, we need to make the time to develop our own Nature connection and to nurture our own sense of wonder, in order to share that with our young children. It may be challenging to make it a priority, but in the joy of Nature lies the motivation to live more lightly and to protect the Earth. And that is something worth passing on to our children.
At the same time, we can learn from our children – how to wonder, how to dream, how to question. As poet W.B. Yeats put it, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” So get out with your children in Nature and you’ll discover many wonderful things together.
Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell (Dawn Publications, 1998)
The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv (Updated version, Algonquin Books, 2008)
Childhood and Nature by David Sobel (Stenhouse Publishers, 2008)
Into the Field: A Guide to Locally Focused Teaching by Clare Walker Leslie (Orion Society, 2005)
I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature by Jennifer Ward (Roost Books, 2008)
It’s a Jungle Out There! 52 Nature Adventures for City Kids by Jennifer Ward (Shambhala Publications, 2011)
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Child Magazine, and the author of 13 books.