“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”
~Thomas Berry, Nature Writer
Growing up green is more than a slogan for developing the next generation of environmental champions. It is a way of allowing children, beginning in their early years, to engage and recreate in nature.
Over the past decade, studies have concluded that young children who regularly spend time outdoors reap many benefits. Nature play:
- Increases physical activity and fitness.
- Improves attention and focus.
- Encourages self-discipline and enjoyment of learning.
- Reduces stress.
- Promotes creativity.
- Improves socialization skills.
- Builds confidence and reinforces sense of self.
- Instills a greater appreciation for the environment.
With all the positive outcomes that are associated with outdoor play, it’s no coincidence that parents are putting nature play spaces high on their lists of priorities when choosing childcare and early learning programs for their young children. Heidi Ferris of Growing Green Hearts coaches childcare centers in nature play and natural playground development, equipping communities to play, learn and love nature. As both a licensed science teacher and environmental STEM teacher trainer, she underscores the importance of hands-on learning, multi-sensory experiences, exploration, and play!
Heidi describes the basic elements of a nature play space as those that use the power of play to interconnect the hydrosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere. For example, the play area Heidi is helping Bloom Early Learning develop at its new center in Plymouth will feature sunflowers growing along a fence line that also includes seasonal bird feeders. Children can observe the four interconnected spheres and serve through watering plants, feeding animals and planting seeds, all while experiencing changing sky views.
Because young children spend on average 36 hours per week in childcare settings, ensuring that the centers children attend provide opportunities for interaction with nature is important for their growth and development. Equally, if not more important, is the time children spend in nature with their parents Encountering nature together with your child can be as easy as stepping out the door, lying in the grass and observing the clouds in the sky. Experts advise not to feed young children facts; instead, ask questions and encourage curiosity.
Every new season presents opportunities for learning about the natural world. Consider the following all-season guide for outdoor activities with young children.
- Look up, up, up! Can you see the leaves on the trees changing colors? What colors can you see? Do you see or hear any animals or birds in the trees? What are they doing up there?
- Look down, down, down! Are there nuts that have fallen to the ground? Are there any squirrels eating or hiding acorns and other nuts? How do you think the squirrels will find the nuts they have hidden?
- Look all around! Can you catch a falling leaf? What sounds do the dry leaves make when you walk through them or jump in them?
- Watch the falling snow. What sound does it make? Can you catch a snowflake on your tongue? Is it cold? Is the air cold or warm?
- Take a walk or pull your child on a sled through the woods or by a wetland. Do you see any animal tracks in the snow? What sort of animals do you think made those tracks?
- Make a snow fort or build a snowman. Is the snow heavy or light to pack? What happens on a day that is warmer and sunnier? Does your snow fort or snowman change size?
- Observe the ground. Is it still frozen? Does it feel hard? What happens when the ground thaws? Does the grass change color? Does the grass grow? Can you see any plants emerging from the ground? Are there buds or new leaves on the trees?
- Go on a rainy day adventure. Can you find a puddle to splash in? Have the earthworms wiggled their way out from underground and onto the sidewalks and streets?
- Get planting. Buy some seeds for your favorite vegetables and flowers and start them in soil on an indoor windowsill. When the ground is soft and air is warm, plant them outside and watch them grow, grow, grow!
- Go on a bug safari. Head outdoors to your yard or a park. How many bugs you can find? Make a record on paper or use your phone camera to photograph the bugs you find. Later use the notes, drawings, and photos you and your child create to tell a story about what you found on your bug safari.
- Play with water. It’s the perfect season to get wet and talk about it. How long does it take you to dry in the sun on a warm day? Can you blow bubbles in a pool of water?
- Smell the blossoming flowers. Taste vegetables from your own garden or a farmers’ market. Do they taste sweet or bitter? What are some of the colors you see? What do you smell?
The bonus of taking time to experience nature together is that it is not only good for your child, but it’s also good for you! Adults reap similar benefits from spending time outside, especially with the kiddos they love!
Instilling a reverence for Planet Earth in our very youngest citizens and giving all children the opportunity to benefit from the rewards of growing up green is not complicated. It does, however, take commitment on the part of caregivers and educators to expose children to natural spaces, and then allow them the time and space to observe, wonder and discover.
At Bloom Early Learning & Child Care, we are committed to giving young children natural spaces in which to learn, play and grow up green!
Find out more by visiting www.bloomearlylearning.org. #WhyBloom