“The most effective kind of education isthat a child should play amongst lovely things.” — Plato
To a child, the world is a magical place. The natural world is truly wonderous. You can watch as a tiny infants eyes are instantly drawn to the flickering of the sun between leaves gently moving in a summer breeze. You can see as the toddler is drawn to the bird, delighted that every time she reaches out to it, it hops once more just out of reach. The colour of grass, the cool damp feeling of hands in dirt, the texture of rocks, the fragrance of flowers… the wonder is endless to the open minded child.
By encouraging a child to develop a relationship with nature, you not only encourage fresh air and excersise but you foster a childs creativity at its very foundation. There is nothing more natural than a child at play out doors. There are endless ways that as adults we can facilitate learning and play in the natural setting. Whether it be at the beach or in a park or in the confines of your own backyard… the possibilities are endless.
Our children learn their respect for the natural earth from us, their parents. They mimic the way that we treat the natural world and they need little explanation. The toddler who watches as you waters the garden needs not know why (not yet anyway) but instincively knows if you do it, then it’s right.
With each season comes new opportunity for us to find new ways to connect with the natural world around us. Even in an urban landscape, nature is not lost. Small potted gardens become home to ladybirds and catepillars, dirt becomes home to worms, plants give life to vegetables which make their way from dirt to table. Grass becomes dry and coarse in summer and wet and long in winter. The spring brings wtih it flowers and the autumn brings golden leaves that crunch and fall.
We have been experimenting with playing with elements and it’s beautiful to watch the discovery of the face of a child as she starts to understand the difference between water and fire and earth and air. I watch now from the windows of our sunroom as she explores the garden alone, talking and pointing at different plants and stopping to collect flowers, rolling the new word around in her mouth over and over again. I watch as her little hands dig dirt from garden to bucket, pressing rocks deep into the earth and squealing in delight when a bird flies low over head.
She plays in a world of her own. A world made of imagination and encouraged by nature.
There are endless activities that you can help to set up that can encourage creative play and help your child to explore their natural world. Some children need more parental involvement than others who seem to need no guidance at all.
Looking for ideas? Try making a little boat from bark and leaves and sailing it down a creek or floating it in your own pond or bucket in the backyard. Make mudpies and get messy. Go jumping in puddles. Make a simple kite and watch the delight in your childs eyes as it lifts up into the air in the wind. Plant a garden. Make daisy chains… let your imagination run free.
Growing up I had a huge backyard and a big family of kids to play in it with. We got lost for hours under cubby houses made from falling vines and planting impossible secret gardens in the far back corners… gardens filled with snap dragons and sour grass and little buckets filled with carefully collected tadpoles. I grew up out of the watchful eye of parents and in the clean air of a Perth suburb where lemon trees were a plenty and mulberries grew and stained our feet and hands as tell tale signs of our afternoon feasts.
I’m raising Bo in a very different world to the world I was raised in. We don’t have a big backyard and she doesn’t have four brothers and sisters to run amock with… but there is one really important thing that is the same.
She has dirt and the freedom to play in it.
What were your favourite things to do outside when you were a kid?