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