All too often children get mixed messages about nature.
On one hand adults romanticise nature to children and expound liberally about how important it is to ‘save’ mother earth and we wax lyrical about the beauty of nature. On the other hand we all too often prohibit them from playing in the rain and slush, use the word ‘dirt’ synonymously for ‘soil’ and cringe when we chance upon a ‘bug’ or worm or ‘creepy-crawly’. When a young child instinctively bends down to pick up a tiny creature she comes across we hasten to get it out of their hands!
The fact is children come unconditioned about the creatures they share this planet with and slowly take on the prevailing attitudes of those around them. This is an important evolutionary step. It is how we learn about our world from the experiences of others. We learn what to stay away from and what to seek. In times long past it was the line between life and death itself!
A parent who delights in the simplest things of nature usually has a child who delights in nature too. I have a young friend, just past 3 years who LOVES ‘bugs’. She enjoys looking at them, handling them and talking about them. They make her world interesting and magical. You don’t have to look far to find out where this fascination comes from. You just have to meet her mother!
Upon hearing the word, ‘worms’ most people cringe, right?
Walk into school and you will find an entirely different mind set when it comes to earthworms! They inspire awe and the children are truly fascinated by them. The child who has found an earthworm wriggling about on a cloudy, rainy day, feels s/he has chanced upon true treasure.
The internal anatomy of the earthworm has been sewn onto cloth and made into soft toys with the shiniest beads used to denote their 5 hearts. Clay models have been fashioned, poems have been written and thick books completed, paying homage to the earthworm.
They are the ‘new’ super heroes at school.
Upon hearing about the great work that earthworms do one child pondered, “Just like earthworms don’t know the important work they do for earth, do we humans also not know some great work that we are doing?”
Now that our school has some amount of outdoor space, I have become obsessed with how we are going to prepare the outdoor environment.
The more I observe the children at play , the more I am convinced that a natural playscape is the way to go.
I once read about the theory of loose parts and it stuck with me – the more loose parts there are for children to manipulate and move, the more inventive and creative is their play.
Simon Nicholson first offered the theory of loose parts in children’s play when he wrote in 1971, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibilities of discovery are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”
…. and nature is the supreme mother of loose parts ….
Anyone who has accompanied a child into nature knows the endless hours they can spend with fallen twigs and leaves, small stones, big rocks, mushy soil, dry gravel, seed pods, ants, spiders, dappled sunlight through the leaves …
Infact, even a tree or two is enough.
At our school the falling leaves of the badam tree have become purses, wings, belts, collars, hairbands, homes of fairies, necklaces, plates, spoons and cups. Their veins have become brooms. The fruit of the tree has become paint. Their tiny flowers have become rain.
“It is unfortunate that children can’t design their outdoor play environments. Research on children’s preferences shows that if children had the design skills to do so, their creations would be completely different from the areas called playgrounds that most adults design for them.
Outdoor spaces designed by children would not only be fully naturalized with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals and insects, but also would be rich with a wide variety of play opportunities of every imaginable type. If children could design their outdoor play spaces, they would be rich, developmentally appropriate learning environments where children would want to stay all day”.