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!!