Young children start life with an affinity for our natural world, instinctively seeking out the company of animals, birds, trees, rocks, shells and places as their special companions and friends. Physically experiencing our world, through encounters with tadpoles, wind, rock pools, caves, ants, or autumn leaves, weaves children into the larger life of the world. These encounters arouse the child’s curiosity and feelings of kinship to Earth. They also calm and soothe, helping children to develop emotional resilience along with physical strength.
Children’s outdoor life has been eroded in recent generations, as Richard Louv wrote about in his ground breaking book Last Child in the Woods. Urbanisation, digitalisation and education and parenting practices all contribute to what Louv describes as a nature deficit disorder caused by decreased outdoor experience and play. The latest editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary mirror children’s increasing nature disconnection, by dropping words such as almond, apricot, goldfish, heron, ivy, lavender and leopard from their pages, and replacing them with words like blog, broadband, celebrity, chatroom and vandalism. This is not the stuff of happier or healthier childhoods.
Now more than ever is the time to nurture our children’s and our own connection with the natural world, as we grieve the losses of bushfires, droughts, climate disruption and COVID!19, all of them driven in part by our lack of care for our natural world. To love our land well, we need to know and spend time with her forests, animals, insects, rivers and beaches, and to cherish them.
Most young children are natural scientists and adventurers, happily becoming absorbed in studying the movement of ants, or climbing trees. This may look like play time but it is also a vital activity for developing understanding and bonding with nature’s processes. When adult carers support nature connectedness, by providing plenty of unstructured outdoor time and encouraging a child’s natural curiosity, they lay foundations for ongoing care and resourcefulness.
Here are 5 ways to nurture your child’s nature relatedness:
- Treasure a natural place that your child loves, whether it be a garden, beach, park, or tree. Go there often, learn about it and care for it together, sharing discoveries and doing some back up reading or viewing about the ecological life of such places.
- Grow food. Nothing is more magical than watching seeds sprout and grow into sunflowers, cucumbers, or snow peas- all of which are simple and quick to grow even in pots. Encourage your child’s preschool or school to set up a vegie garden if they haven’t already.
- Join up as a family for a local tree planting day or clean-up day, or become part of a community garden. Teach your child how caring for land is part of being a community.
- Make your next holiday a camping or tramping one- the more you physically engage with the natural world, the more comfortable and curious your child will be about the world we live in. Take along a bird watching guide and see how many birds you can spot and name.
- Choose a wildlife charity to support with your children. One whose focus includes understanding and saving animals’ habitats as part of their mission. The Australian Marine Conservation Society is one great example which has a special focus on engaging with children supporters.
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