With spring upon us, the natural world is bursting with activity and growth. Children are beginning to play more outside, and so the importance of the outdoors to the child’s development becomes more prominent. Playing outdoors provides opportunities for physical development in the form of exercise, fresh air and exposure to sunlight with many benefits. The changing seasons also provide us with many opportunities for intellectual growth through the study of nature.
We can observe the patterns and cycles of the plants and animals around us. For example, in the spring, children can observe birds nesting, flowers blooming and leaves emerging. Insects and other animals become more active after the dormant time of winter. This gives us many opportunities to ex-pand their vocabulary related to the world around us.
Children can learn the names of flowers, birds, trees and insects. Gardening activities naturally lead to discussions about nutrition, composting and preparing the soil. Direct experiences feed a curious mind and stimulate a thirst for more knowledge and lay a foundation on which we can draw upon later.
Not only do experiences in nature enrich the physical body and mind; it nourishes the emotions and spirit as well. Greenery and plants directly affect calmness and a sense of peace. The cycles of nature and study of the Earth foster a sense of connection among all living organisms. Being in nature connects us to ourselves and can bring us into a state of harmony. These first hand experiences foster a “sense of wonder,” as Rachael Carson so eloquently expressed:
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the ster-ile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
So as parents, how do we incorporate the outdoors and nature into our daily life? Visiting parks and natural spaces as a family is one great way to do this. Feeding birds or caring for a garden is a way to incorporate nature into our daily life. Taking time to note the change in seasons and the weather each day connects to the yearly cycles of the Earth. Sitting quietly for a time each day to observe the natural world, even in our own neighborhood, is a wonderful, calming activity. There is no right or wrong way. It is more about an attitude of openness to nature – to see what we can learn and observe, than it is about specific activities. One can be in the forest and be too preoccupied with daily life to even see the snail on a leaf in front of us. Taking the time to watch that tiny snail slowly crawl up a leaf can be a meditative practice and connect us deeply to the wonder of life.
Marla Nargundkar, AMI montessori guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Doraville/Atlanta