Perhaps you're a teacher or parent or someone who cares for the well-being of a child in your life. Maybe you are an inspiring naturalist or someone who recognizes the value of the outdoor world in your own life and you want to inspire others! The book "Sharing Nature with Children" by Joseph Cornell (1998), is dedicated to those who wish to share their love of the natural world — particularly with children. Like others who came before and after Cornell, he reassures that one does not need to know the scientific names of plants and animals to share a valuable nature experience. A quote that inspires and affirms this idea in my work as an Environmental Educator is the following "One transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts." David Sobel
For Cornell "The names of plants and animals are only superficial labels for what those things really are. Just as your own essence isn't captured by your name..." (p 15)
I do not want to devalue the scientific or local names of plants and animals here — as they tell a story too. Names can act as a conduit for further appreciation, understanding and communication of nature. If that is the case for you or a child you know a good guide book or the internet can provide an additional level to explore your nature encounters — but is not required to have them!
In "Sharing Nature with Children" Cornell provides activities adults can facilitate to inspire children's learning and love for the natural world. I will not be writing about these activities as it would be rewriting the book itself. To support your adventures I will share five suggestions which Cornell states have helped him over the years. For me, I like to think of these five suggestions as "checking-in" with myself during outdoor adventures with my family or nature inspired programs with families.
They are the following:
1. Teach less, Share more
Go ahead and share what you appreciate, observe or feel in nature. For example what you love about a particular season or what gives you moment for pause and respect for the world around you. Moments of AWE-SOME!!
2. Be Receptive
Be present. Show and model attention to the world around you and the children you are sharing it with. In Cornell's experience, opportunities to communicate often arise from a child's own enthusiasm, interest and questions and your receptivity will atune you to these opportunities.
NOTE TO SELF: As an Environmental Educator, and honestly as a parent, I find this challenging. I often set out on an outdoor adventure having already committed to a "plan" or objective. Here is my new challenge (Thank you Cornell), and perhaps a guide in life: "Your lesson plan will be written for you minute by minute if you tune in with sensitive attention."
3. Focus the Child's Attention without Delay
From the get-go try to get everyone involved right from the start by; sharing observations, feelings, asking questions, pointing out interesting sights, smells and sounds. A key here is not to forget to take interest in their observations too!!
4. Look and Experience First, Talk Later
Let nature's experiences seize the moment!
For example seeing a deer or by allowing time to observe the smaller things with close attention.
(Note to self - DO THIS! Remember how you love the quote on transcendent experiences being worth a thousand nature facts!)
5. A Sense of Joy
Cornell states that your greatest asset in sharing nature with children is your own enthusiasm!
So with these suggestions, or "check-ins" in your back pocket, go and grab your fellow adventurers (and a few snacks) and dare to get your nature grooves on!!
Reflecting on adult roles in nature
Did I only think it or did I say it? Either way my five and half year old son pushed on with his idea. We were exploring a small creek after a fresh dump of snow.
"Let's build a snow bridge across!" he exclaimed as he patted down snow into the trickling water...mitts and all.
It didn't seem possible — the stretch before us was maybe three metres wide and a foot deep in the middle. What did seem possible is getting wet, cold and uncomfortable. Instead of poo- poo'ing his idea, which I considered, I decided to help him out until he discovered why it wouldn't work for himself...or got too wet first. Or so I thought I - in the end a new discovery awaited me!
We gathered and dumped clumps of wet snow at the bank of our project. He patted it down as fast as he could before the snow shipped downstream or disappeared all together.
"Quick!" he said.
I started to throw snow balls from the edge of our snow harvesting site towards my son to pat down onto our budding snow bridge. This was somewhat effective...but mostly fun for both of us. Then we tried rolling a large snow ball so we could just roll it into the creek to pat down but sadly the snow wasn't sticky enough.
Soon, I forgot about the impossible and we set out working together on the possible.
I started packing our red sled full of snow and dumping it before him so he could continue patting it down. He was now on his hands and knees and crawling onto our snow bridge about half way across. He made it to a rock big enough for him to stand on while admiring our success, rosy cheeks and all.
"I feel so alive!" he exclaimed
Eventually he made it to the other side of that creek on his snow bridge that morning. On the other side, my son sat triumphantly in a snow bank kicking snow into the creek.
I stood observing our now narrowing and shrinking bridge.
"It's time. You better hurry before there is no bridge to cross on anymore!" I said, my adult-self returning.
Onto his hands and knees and across he came. A hand, then a knee and whole leg landing into the creek as part of the bridge broke off. Laughing he was now standing on the bank watching our work dissolve into the water.
Wet mitts, knees, a leg, a foot and countless set backs and repairs were all part of our success....hmm I couldn't help but be absorbed in the metaphor of our morning; how Nature can facilitate life's lessons for our children — when given the opportunity.
Or reflecting on my own adult walls of what is possible and my son pulling them down beside me as our snow bridge began to stretch across.
Even more was noticing my son...and myself as our morning efforts began to break off and flow downstream and disappear — there was no disappointment, frustration or tears (which often follows our indoor project mishaps).
I was tickled by the nudge of Nature, having facilitated our morning, now reclaiming it. Leaving us without something material to show but something more stirring and permanent.
Thankful, I left that creek feeling more connected to my son, joyful and wet.