Children are naturally born with a sense of wonder. When left alone, many children often explore the world with all their senses. They may experiment eating mud pies, shove their noses into flowers or try to catch ants and other bugs. Many children will communicate their discoveries to those around them and demonstrate an affinity for Nature.
Carefully cultivated, the feelings of appreciation forms solid values which can mature into ecological literacy and in the future into conscious green patterns of living.
Most of us live comfortably in our environment. Yet we often taken some things for granted such as the air we breathe, the plants that feed us, the animals that are our companions. Sometimes we do more, we “appreciate” our environment meaning to recognise the value of that “something” and go about protecting and preserving that environment.
So how do we educate for appreciation and gratitude?
A Sense of Appreciation
There are many things you can do to encourage children to appreciate nature. One of the most important tasks is to be a positive role model, set an example and show interest in nature. Researchers have presented two implications for early childhood learnings with the natural world.
- It is critical that we take children outside to play and that we bring the outside world in. According to researchers, the access children have to the natural and outdoor world is fundamental for the translation of knowledge into active concern for our world.
- We should offer small children activities specifically designed to appreciate and to explore nature and the environment. These activities will help form the foundation for later, deeper understandings of the natural world.
There is some truth in the old saying “If you love nature, you will never be alone”. It is a beautiful gift that we can give to children, the ability to dissolve the feelings of loneliness by taking refuge in nature. And this gift starts with helping them develop a sense of nature.
Take your child/ren on walks through a forest, park or wooded area. Discuss such things as what the forest looks and sounds like, what animals can be seen, and what it feels like to walk through the forest or park. Use you phone to make recordings of bird song or the whistling of the wind to play back to the child/ren at a later date.
Keep your eyes and ears open when walking in nature. This means less talk at first. Teach children to be quiet and still around animals. No touching of small insects or reptiles. It is important that students don’t harm bugs or small reptiles. This is a great moment to teach kindness.
Notice Small Things
Sometimes a combination of pretty leaves is enough to create interest. Show child/ren as many details of nature as you can. Show them parts of a leaf or flower, the special colours of birds or the strange appearance of bugs. If the child has no fear, be gentle with your words and your fears. As adults we don’t want to impose our fears onto children.
Ask Children Questions
Help your child/ren notice certain aspects of nature through guided questioning. Encourage them to ask you questions. Show them the habit of questioning and being curious is a positive educational experience.
Use Your Senses
Urge children to use all of their senses. Ask them not only to see but also hear, smell, touch and if it is safe, to taste. Ask them to describe each kind of sensory impression. Be careful of tasting unfamiliar plants, though!
Who doesn’t love a picnic in nature? Make picnics in nature a special occasion. Lie on blankets and watch the clouds float by, smell the breeze, observe flight patterns of birds and insects. Help children to summarise what they have seen at the end. To stimulate discussion, ask your child/ren what they enjoyed most. Ask the child/ren what they want to know more about. Personal reflection is important at any age!
Touch on the subject of ecology and introduce responsibility. If you find rubbish on the Nature trail, talk about it. Carry a bag and a glove to collect rubbish from your favourite natural spot whether it’s a beach, park or forest.
Grow a Veggie Garden
Encourage your child to plant seeds of their favourite veggies and flowers in garden soil. Motivate your child/ren to help you water and take care of the little patch of seeds. And when there are fruits to collect, share with family and friends. Thank Mother Nature for caring for us by leaving out water for birds or planting extra flowers for butterflies.
Make a plan with your child/ren to plant a tree in an appropriate area. Can you imagine what the tree might be like when it’s fully grown? Draw pictures and take photos. As the tree grows, encourage the child/ren to place ribbon wishes on the branches or decorate the tree with an alter of gratitude, made with painted rocks, flowers and seeds for birds.