This blog post is inspired by the title of a recent Nature Conservancy of Canada 2018 speaker series exploring our relationship with nature. The session was titled "Nature and Me - Relationship status: It's Complicated".
This title had me intrigued! Status of our relationship with nature? YES - interestingly and uniquely put Nature Conservancy! We are all in a relationship with nature! But how often do we think of it this way or even as a partner in our lives ... with a status? From life sustaining processes to the bath I gave my daughter last night - we are always intimately engaged in this relationship that goes far beyond what we can see or sometimes imagine.
So what is our status? Is our relationship to nature complicated? Maybe, but it's definitely a dynamic relationship - like most relationships. There are times when I am actively and fully "engaged" in my relationship with nature and other times when I feel "separated" and disconnected. Sometimes I just feel "open" to a relationship with nature but my indoor comforts are just too good at the time.
But is it complicated? Sometimes? It strikes me however that when I allocate time to be in nature is when things often feel the most simple. That's why I love it - it gives me a break from day to day distractions and eventually gives me a chance to just be myself. It's a time when my children often experience me at my most grounded ...without one more thing to do before I give them my full attention. And nature facilitates the experience for us all- challenging us, accepting us and connecting us. I can just enter the play or kick back.
What is complicated are all my other relationships that interfere in actually getting out the door. Not necessarily people but things like my phone and other screens, work or less tangible things like my expectations of myself through out the day and my own list of "should - dos". When I think back to when things feel the least complicated, it's when I'm outside sharing in an experience with my family and just having the space to be ourselves. Back to basics. Status: Simple.
Perhaps you're a teacher or parent or someone who cares for the well-being of a child in your life. Maybe you are an inspiring naturalist or someone who recognizes the value of the outdoor world in your own life and you want to inspire others! The book "Sharing Nature with Children" by Joseph Cornell (1998), is dedicated to those who wish to share their love of the natural world — particularly with children. Like others who came before and after Cornell, he reassures that one does not need to know the scientific names of plants and animals to share a valuable nature experience. A quote that inspires and affirms this idea in my work as an Environmental Educator is the following "One transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts." David Sobel
For Cornell "The names of plants and animals are only superficial labels for what those things really are. Just as your own essence isn't captured by your name..." (p 15)
I do not want to devalue the scientific or local names of plants and animals here — as they tell a story too. Names can act as a conduit for further appreciation, understanding and communication of nature. If that is the case for you or a child you know a good guide book or the internet can provide an additional level to explore your nature encounters — but is not required to have them!
In "Sharing Nature with Children" Cornell provides activities adults can facilitate to inspire children's learning and love for the natural world. I will not be writing about these activities as it would be rewriting the book itself. To support your adventures I will share five suggestions which Cornell states have helped him over the years. For me, I like to think of these five suggestions as "checking-in" with myself during outdoor adventures with my family or nature inspired programs with families.
They are the following:
1. Teach less, Share more
Go ahead and share what you appreciate, observe or feel in nature. For example what you love about a particular season or what gives you moment for pause and respect for the world around you. Moments of AWE-SOME!!
2. Be Receptive
Be present. Show and model attention to the world around you and the children you are sharing it with. In Cornell's experience, opportunities to communicate often arise from a child's own enthusiasm, interest and questions and your receptivity will atune you to these opportunities.
NOTE TO SELF: As an Environmental Educator, and honestly as a parent, I find this challenging. I often set out on an outdoor adventure having already committed to a "plan" or objective. Here is my new challenge (Thank you Cornell), and perhaps a guide in life: "Your lesson plan will be written for you minute by minute if you tune in with sensitive attention."
3. Focus the Child's Attention without Delay
From the get-go try to get everyone involved right from the start by; sharing observations, feelings, asking questions, pointing out interesting sights, smells and sounds. A key here is not to forget to take interest in their observations too!!
4. Look and Experience First, Talk Later
Let nature's experiences seize the moment!
For example seeing a deer or by allowing time to observe the smaller things with close attention.
(Note to self - DO THIS! Remember how you love the quote on transcendent experiences being worth a thousand nature facts!)
5. A Sense of Joy Should Permeate the Experience
Cornell states that your greatest asset in sharing nature with children is your own enthusiasm!
So with these suggestions, or "check-ins" in your back pocket, go and grab your fellow adventurers (and a few snacks) and dare to get your nature grooves on!!
Did I only think it or did I say it? Either way my five and half year old son pushed on with his idea. We were exploring a small creek after a fresh dump of snow.
"Let's build a snow bridge across!" he exclaimed as he patted down snow into the trickling water..mitts and all.
It didn't seem possible- the stretch before us was maybe 3 metres wide and a foot deep in the middle. What did seem possible is getting wet, cold and uncomfortable. Instead of poo- poo'ing his idea, which I considered, I decided to help him out until he discovered why it wouldn't work for himself...or got too wet first.
We gathered and dumped clumps of wet snow at the bank of our project. He patted it down as fast as he could before the snow shipped downstream or disappeared all together.
"Quick!" he said.
I started to throw snow balls from the edge of our snow harvesting site towards my son to pat down onto our budding snow bridge. This was somewhat effective...but mostly fun for both of us. Then we tried rolling a large snow ball so we could just roll it into the creek to pat down but sadly the snow wasn't sticky enough.
Soon, I forgot about the impossible and we set out working together on the possible.
I started packing our red sled full of snow and dumping it before him so he could continue patting it down. He was now on his hands and knees and crawling onto our snow bridge about half way across. He made it to a rock big enough for him to stand on while admiring our success, rosy cheeks and all.
"I feel so alive!" he exclaimed
Eventually he made it to the other side of that creek on his snow bridge that morning. On the other side, my son sat triumphantly in a snow bank kicking snow into the creek.
I stood observing our now narrowing and shrinking bridge.
"It's time. You better hurry before there is no bridge to cross on anymore!" I said, my adult-self returning.
Onto his hands and knees and across he came. A hand, then a knee and whole leg landing into the creek as part of the bridge broke off. Laughing he was now standing on the bank watching our work dissolve into the water.
Wet mitts, knees, a leg, a foot and countless set backs and repairs were all part of our success....hmm I couldn't help but be absorbed in the metaphor of our morning; how Nature can facilitate life's lessons for our children — when given the opportunity.
Or reflecting on my own adult walls of what is possible and my son pulling them down beside me as our snow bridge began to stretch across.
Even more was noticing my son...and myself as our morning efforts began to break off and flow downstream and disappear — there was no disappointment, frustration or tears (which often follows our indoor project mishaps).
I was tickled by the nudge of Nature, having facilitated our morning, now reclaiming it. Leaving us without something material to show but something more stirring and permanent.
Thankful, I left that creek feeling more connected to my son, joyful and wet.
“We make time for soccer practice but we don’t make time or schedule time to just be outside...”.
(Urban Wild Case Study Parent)
Social norms or pressures around how parents should be allocating time can be a challenge for getting our families outside. One Urban Wild parent, during my case study, described this challenge best; “We are conditioned to think that there are other things that we should be doing to take up the time or keep them [children] busy”.
Reflecting on their nature club experience, several parents shared that they would dedicate more time outdoors as a family after developing the following insight: nature is a valuable partner in our family experiences. Nurturing our relationship with the natural world pulls us away from day to day distractions and allows us to engage fully with our family.
Parents observed that the child-nature relationship provided a cure from boredom. This came as a relief and surprise to many parents as their children found activities to keep them busy with very little adult guidance. Also significant was the state of presence or a grounding effect that parents reflected on as a result of their own relationship with the natural world. Ultimately providing families an opportunity to be themselves together — results in an authentic family experience,
I think we can all recognize the value of being present in the moment but how often in our family lives do we achieve this bliss? What are the effects on children today witnessing their parents in a state of constant rush that has been described in literature as “time sickness”- the feeling that there is never enough time?
The state of presence experienced by parents during nature-based family activities can result in positive impressions on children — reinforcing their connection with the natural world. Ultimately, we are recognizing something that has always been available to us in the natural world — the gift of time.
May 27th, 2017- June 3rd, 2017 is "Get Outside and Play" week in Alberta, Canada!
Get Outside and Play week is an invitation to celebrate outdoor play in the early years. The Alberta Council for Environmental Education, ACEE, is spearheading this province wide initiative to support and engage families, early childhood educators and communities in outdoor play spaces.
Why: Unstructured outdoor play has increasingly been observed to be a missing piece of childhood today. Benefits of unstructured outdoor play for children can include a developing sense of self-competence, increasing physical literacy, sparking curiosity and inquiry, connecting to other living things, developing a sense of place in a community and fostering social and problem solving skills... to name a few.
So how can adults help provide opportunities to get outside and play for the children in their lives?
1. The first ingredient is dedicating time.
Dedicating time to outdoor play is something that may take practice, for the whole family, and rest assured that you can start small! In addition you will have the inspiration of spring and warmer weather on your side to start practicing!
Some simple examples include: backyard picnics, reading a book outside together, build a fort in your backyard, paint rocks, go on a ladybug or worm 'hunt' in your backyard and beyond.
Once you've dedicated time to outdoor play, here are some quick tips:
- Rest assured that you do not need to know all the answers when exploring the outdoors with your child. Demonstrating curiosity and encouraging your child's questions can go a long way in generating meaningful outdoor experiences for your family.
- Welcome the opportunity to adjust your pace and level of observation to your child's. You may experience a whole new world of exploration and an appreciation for the smaller things.
- Let nature supply the ingredients, and together with your child, you make the recipe! In other words let the natural world help facilitate the experience for your family! You may be surprised by where your interests lead!
- Follow your child's lead. This may take some practice (and that's ok!). Following the child's lead will also help to enhance the previous tips. You may also find there are surprising benefits for both adult and child as a result! I have found it has led to some surprising opportunities for bonding and understanding between my son, myself and in our relationship.
For any adult who may still be feeling apprehensive about setting off in the outdoors with a child this spring, here is a final quote from Rachel Carson, a scientist and advocate for exploring the outdoors with young children, in hopes to provide some reassurance:
“Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils, and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.” Rachel Carson - 1956
For more information, resources and how to participate in the "Get Outside and Play" week please visit: www.abcee.org/getoutsideandplay
Did I mention PRIZES!?
In Calgary? Come to the Get Outside and Play week launch event!
When: May 28th, 2017 from 11:30 - 3:00
Where: Pearce Estate Park, Calgary AB
What: Family picnic, Mountain Wit Theatre and outdoor family activities!
Have fun this spring exploring your family's natural inclinations in the outdoors!
Often a change in weather — to colder and shorter days, can pose some challenges to getting our family nature grooves on. It's cozier inside, close to comforts and other seasonal family activities. I totally get it, it happens to everyone — even those of us who eagerly anticipate the coming snow!
To support your winter family adventures I wanted to share a list of my favourite parks to visit with my family nature club during the winter. In addition I have also shared some fun nature inspired winter activities you can match-up with your park visits!
So here goes...
The first Urban Wild Family Nature Club: "Choose Your Own Adventure"!
Mix and Match Parks and Activities Below for
Yesterday I strolled along a rocky reservoir shore with my 4 year old. The day had previously been infused with grumpy moments for both of us. There had been a tension between us all day. It was hard to make light of the smallest things and the air was filled with do's, don'ts and wants.
What struck me while we launched driftwood into the water was how we had drifted ourselves, almost unnoticed, from tension to play and cooperation. We watched our driftwood boats tip and turn in the waves and finally return to the shore only to be launched again — this time with canon balls of rocks to dodge!
We were both taking turns leading the play — both accepting and nourishing each other's ideas.
As we walked back, my son took me on a "secret path" along the shore which looped us further away from our destination (the car). We did the loop again with him insisting and leading the way! There was not a word about his wet feet and wet pants past his knees...
We returned home both lighter and connected.
It seems the natural world supports and accepts our moods, how ever we arrive, and gently drifts us to a calmer and more connected place.
There are many emotions that can be experienced and expressed in a natural environment for ourselves and for our children. Sometimes they are shared and sometimes they offer the opportunity for a deep sharing between parent and child.
Something that I continue to learn about is the phenomena of fear experienced in the natural world; my own, my child's and in other parent-child- nature relationships. There is something raw and beautiful that can occur when fear is expressed within the parent-child-nature relationship that I have experienced and observed.
I've learned how nature experiences can engage fear, often in specific unwanted animal encounters. And with the insights shared from other parents, I've learned how nature can support us in moving beyond our fear. In other words, in natural settings the emotion of fear can be experienced and expressed and with thoughtful and present parental connection around the next corner a nature expereince can offer intrigue, curiosity and laughter.
Snakes to ground squirrels
Protective geese families to wild flowers
Potential bears to rocks (shapes, colours and skipping into water)
Ultimately as parents, we want to protect our children from experiencing fear and as a parent motivated to cultivate a bond with the natural world for my son, fear is typically something I try to avoid while setting out on our urban wild adventures..
But hey, it happens. It's raw, it's natural and it can offer an opportunity for connection, understanding and trust between parent, child and the natural world.
I think the natural world provides the parent-child relationship the space to experience a spectrum of emotions and the opportunity to find a way to articulate, express and understand them. The experiences we have in the natural world can promote a healthy dialogue about emotions, what we can learn from them and how we can move with them and sometimes beyond them — offering connection and resiliency in ourselves and in our parent-child-nature relationship.
"The simple point is this: it is pedagogy that makes the crucial difference in a child's life." Max van Manen (Pedagogical Tact, 2015, p.19)
Max van Manen's book "Pedogogical Tact: Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do" (2015), is cultivating a lot of connections for me between the parent-child-nature relationship and a type of "pedagogical thoughtfulness" (p.11) that may emerge from this experience. I can think back to my own reflections on the parent-child-nature relationship and the actions and insights of participating parents in my family nature club study and find examples of what I believe could be a type of "sensitive personal pedagogy" (p.11) developing for individuals.
What is pedagogy? I assumed I knew...something to do with the act of teaching...maybe?
Van Manen describes pedagogy as a reflective process of determining appropriate and inappropriate "ways of acting and interacting with children" (p.33). He describes this process as often ethical in nature and involves uncertainty and "the doubting, questioning, and reflecting on our actions and practices" (p.33). Who can't identify with this as a parent!!? Elsewhere in the book, Van Manen refers to this process as a type of "pedagogical wondering" (p.18)
According to Van Manen pedagogy, as a notion, is rarely used in the educational English language community and thus there is an opportunity to develop a pedagogical language that is "a more sensitive attuning to the reality of the adult-child relations." (p.11). This "sensitive attuning" may speak to some of the experiences we had as parents reflecting on the parent-child-nature relationship during my study. Such an example emerging from my study maybe in the experience described by participating parents as the parent and child learning and growing together — a kind of reciprocating pedagogy.
This is so exciting for me in this phase of my research! It makes me think that possibly nature as partner in the adult-child reality has a role to play in influencing pedagogy or "pedagogical tact". Or at least is a platform to isolate and explore the parent-child relation and how a pedagogy may develop.
Perhaps the PCN relationship provides the parent an opportunity to explore their own "sensitive personal pedagogy" or "thoughtful pedagogy" with their child or children. I think this could be an interesting angle in my analysis in my research.
As part of my analysis, there could be an opportunity to identify "pedagogical moments" (p.35) in the experience of the PCN relationship for families who participated in this study. Van Manen describes a pedagogical moment as "...the ability to actively distinguish what is good or appropriate from what is less suited or inappropriate for children or young people in a particular moment" (p.35)
Other quotes that ground and provoke ideas around a "thoughtful pedagogy" emerging around the PCN relationship from the book so far:
"The practice of cultivating one's pedagogical thoughfulnesss and tact is the response to the challenge of approaching each situation with respect and attentiveness" (p.35)
"It is knowledge that issues from the heart as well as from the head" (p.35)
Phenomenological Reflections on Pedagogy or Pedagogical Stories p.14
"...long-term latency of pedagogical events belongs to the silent secrets of the narrative themes of our lives." (p.16)
"Of course, the child also influence the adult. The pedagogical relation is complex, and in part it signifies also a process of self-development and self-understanding for the adult" (p.17)
"...the unfolding of our pedagogic nature." (p.19)
"Upon reflection the meaning of pedagogy in the adult-child relation is profoundly enigmatic." (p.20)
"...I use the term "pedagogy" to refer to this primordial adult-child relation that is biological and cultural, ancient and present, mundane and mysterious, sensuous and sensitive to the ethical demand as it is experienced in pedagogical relations, situations and actions." (p.20)
Here, I share some of my concluding take aways from reflecting on my parent-child-nature relationship during this program and study: