There is no need to be an entomologist, botanist, or ecologist to appreciate what nature has to offer through natural learning – or to teach your kids appreciation for the natural world. It starts with learning to see nature through a child’s eyes. Here are a few suggestions to make your next family backyard wander or park romp that much more meaningful, thanks to the senses.
Your primary job as a parent (other than to ensure safety at all times) will be to see things as a child, through a child’s eye – something you may need to develop yourself. Learn to look beyond the name of a plant or animal and view things with a curious sensitivity that opens your senses to exploration – as if you are looking at each plant and animal you see for the very first time. If you can do this and become really aware of things in nature, you will enter into a world of childlike thrill and experience — is there any better way to relate to your children than that? A coyote’s yelp under a moonlit sky, the dart of a mouse scampering among leaves, the sweet aroma of a dew-laden meadow under the morning sun, the iridescence of a trout as it swims in the shallows of a mountain brook – these are all but moments unobserved to the unaware.
You can help to inspire your child’s natural learning curiosity by helping them assemble a “discovery kit” they can take with them into the backyard or on their next hike with you.
For the discovery kit, you will need a small nylon stuff sack into which you will put the following items:
- Hand-held magnifying glass – to look at small things up close.
- Several small unbreakable clear plastic containers – to allow observation of insects, lizards, frogs and more without too much handling.
- Aquarium net – to catch insects and small animals in a creek, tide pool, puddle or more
- Small notebook and pencil – for taking observation notes and making sketches.
- Set of colored pencils – to add color to sketches.
- Several sheets of tracing paper – to trace leaves, shapes of animal footprints and more.
If you wish, you can also easily create an underwater viewer using a large coffee can with both ends cut out. Over one end, stretch clear plastic wrap and secure it into place with a rubber band. Now, when you place the plastic covered end into the water, you will be able to more clearly view the underwater world in a stream or pond.
The most important concept in natural learning that your children should remember is to never remove anything from its natural environment. With an adult’s supervision, it is OK to pick up and examine a small bug, or lizard, or even a frog or two, but keep skin contact to a minimum and always return the animals where you found them. This is where the clear plastic specimen containers come in handy. When examining a bug or small lizard up close, gently place it in the container and then look at it through the magnifying glass. This will help minimize the stress of being held in a human hand for any length of time. Always keep captivity to a minimum — longer than one minute is pushing it for the creature’s health. If your children learn respect for each and every creature in the wild no matter how small, they have learned one of the most important lessons of all. And that is the essence of natural learning!