Dandelions, ducklings and special places
I'm starting to realize how it is the everyday things in nature that I often take for granted that are of huge interest for young children...however I think I'm getting better at anticipating this. An example of this was the ground squirrels at Fish Creek and at this event it was the dandelions! It felt like we could have stayed in each of these spots for the whole 1.5 hour program! I wonder what would have emerged then?
As an educator I felt like I should have planned the program around the dandelions however as a parent it was wonderful experiencing the group play unfolding around the dandelions - from picking bouquets, to watching them float down the stream and over a little rapid. I think treating everything as a "teachable moment" can zap some of the magic out of the experience for both adult and child. Which leaves me to contemplate how we as parents choose to participate in our children's emerging play in nature.
Sometimes I choose to direct and shape, sit back and watch or enter in the play. I think all of these choices shape my parent-child-nature relationship in various ways and I think they each have their value in our experience together...it's feeling for the right time to enter into one of these parental roles that can be a challenge.
My favourite moment with Francis today was when he laid on the snack blanket before families arrived and was looking up at the trees - here I had a choice: direct and shape (ex: "What do you see?"), sit back and watch or enter in the play or experience (ex: Lay down beside him.). I choose in this case to snap some pics...which felt more like sit back and watch. However, I felt like I intruded in on the experience...but sometimes I do that and sometimes I enter in and others times it's his very own. Thinking of that as I write this - I realize it was all three! Perhaps it is never really exclusively one or the other in the parent-child-nature relationship...but a careful...no a caring combination.
Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together (2012)
Edited by Julie Dunlap and Stephen R. Kellert.
I found it really interesting that in the preface of this book it is recognized that most nature literature is a reflection from the solitary observer rather than from the observer sharing the experience such as a child and adult (p.15). Ahoy: A gap in research!
Through a collection of essays, from adults spending time in nature with children, this book seeks to understand how children and adults explore nature together (p.17). Awesome!!
Although I haven't got to the essays themselves I love the preface to this book! It highlights Rachel Carson's vision for adults and children exploring nature together in her 1956 essay "Help your child to Wonder". Including Carson, there are many authors quoted and referenced in this preface who are authorities on this subject matter through research, lived experience and observation. Further anecdotes and advice are provided around meaningful ways to engage young children to adolescents in the natural world. (I'll share some below!)
Although this book recognizes that the adult-child-nature relationship is important, it is also recognizes that it is not fully understood. (A gap!) The editors also take a cautionary tone, warning to self-interrogate our roles as adults in enhancing the child-nature connection; "Yet in facilitating regular nature contact for children, adults must take care not to become barriers to connections themselves" (p.13). So with nature's virtually limitless possibilities, how can adults "...maximize the possibilities of outdoors, including emotional and sensory interactions, while still keeping children safe?" (p.13) Can we resist our temptations to over supervise and shape the experience? Another great question posed worth researching is " How does the presence of an adult change a free, unstructured outdoor experience?" (p.13). Interesting questions to consider.
So from here I would like to share some of my favourite quotes and tips from the preface of the book on how adults can enhance nature-contact experiences with children "...that endure in children's memories and shape their futures." (p.13) We hope in the best ways! However although these are my favourites from the book the editors still note; “Yet evidence is not clear on the optimal approach once adults and children are under the sky together.” (p.11)...I'll say it again: A GAP!
Things to consider as adult "Companions in Wonder":
(Tips and quotes from the preface)
Rachel Carson author of "A Sense of Wonder" (1956)
"It is not so important to know as to feel." (p.4)
"If facts are the seeds of children's knowledge and understanding, then emotions are the fertile soil they need to grow." (p.12)
"With your child, look at objects you take for granted as commonplace or uninteresting.” (p 2)
Stephen Kellert author of "Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection" (2005)
How the experience influences the emotional, cognitive and spiritual development of the child influences how the child absorbs the experience over time (p.12). Kellert believes that direct nature contact such as in the backyard to local parks and beyond provides this influence over time versus more indirect nature contact experiences such as visits to the zoo or aquarium.
The most beneficial direct contact experiences considers the developmental stages of the child:
0-5 years: direct contact with familiar animals and natural spaces
6-12 years: “…thrive when venturing further afield, investigating wild animals and habitats and creating tree forts and other outdoor shelters to explore their autonomy.” (p.12)
Adolescence: unfamiliar or wilderness settings, riskier challenges
Mary Rivkin author of "The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children's Right to Play Outside" (1995)
- "...freedom as a basic value to outdoor play" (p.13)
-"Not only is there typically more space out-of-doors, there is less in that space to bump into, break, or lost parts of. One's body is no longer under need of tight control — its capabilities to shout, sing, leap, roll, stretch, and fling are unleashed." (p.13)
Stephen Trimble co-author of "The Geography of Childhood" (1995)
“As parents, our job is to pay attention, to create possibilities – to be careful match-makers between our children and the Earth.” (p.16)
Richard Louv author of "Last Child in the Woods" (2005)
“It takes time – loose unstructured dreamtime — to experience nature in a meaningful way” p.11
Spring Colours and Feathered Families
What I am left wondering:
Parenting in nature and what we are learning from each other.
What I feel
Excitement, satisfaction, cohesiveness, community, fun
What I saw
Community of plants and animals
A community of children
Comforts increasing in exploring and with the “routine” of the program
For older children a desire to take more initiative or ownership or have choice in their explorations and take the lead
Children starting to become a flock, a herd or a pack -leading and following
For myself: Wanting to stick to the planned program, keep on schedule. Adult world.
Children living more from moment to moment, feeling to feeling, experience to experience (assumption). How to blend these worlds? Have the experience work for both adult and child? How to learn from eachother?
Ground Squirrel Town
Heads popping up
Children leaning in
Cautious curiosity quickly turning into play and boundary testing
Boundary testing…always creating immediate friends and allies
How close, how fast and how many?
Boundaries between our above ground human world swirling and mixing with
Ground squirrel town
Mysterious homes below
Maybe, subtly and gently
Becoming part of our homes, ourselves
What I think
A group of families is starting to become a community of families
What I Wonder:
With a ready to live in contrary to my suggestions - son
What other conflicts besides getting dressed and into the car with arise today
Ok the step of getting into the car again proves to be the hardest
We are rolling, horizon is ahead
Although it is not bright there are possibilities
There are trains
There are snacks
There is a snack blanket and a family nature club blanket my son observes...or proclaims!
There are families
"When are we going home?"
We are carried forward, not backward, on a wave of families
Momentum to keep going, to turn ideas of home, for now, into...
Hide and seek
Energy and play is beckoned by the old brick house
Kids take charge
There are no hesitations
"Let the wild rumpus begin!"
Going home is forgotten
Believe it or not...the sun comes out
Tired but free of parent-child tensions