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 Should Permeate the Experience
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!!
"The simple point is this: it is pedagogy that makes the crucial difference in a child's life." Max van Manen (Pedagogical Tact, 2015, p.19)
Max van Manen's book "Pedogogical Tact: Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do" (2015), is cultivating a lot of connections for me between the parent-child-nature relationship and a type of "pedagogical thoughtfulness" (p.11) that may emerge from this experience. I can think back to my own reflections on the parent-child-nature relationship and the actions and insights of participating parents in my family nature club study and find examples of what I believe could be a type of "sensitive personal pedagogy" (p.11) developing for individuals.
What is pedagogy? I assumed I knew...something to do with the act of teaching...maybe?
Van Manen describes pedagogy as a reflective process of determining appropriate and inappropriate "ways of acting and interacting with children" (p.33). He describes this process as often ethical in nature and involves uncertainty and "the doubting, questioning, and reflecting on our actions and practices" (p.33). Who can't identify with this as a parent!!? Elsewhere in the book, Van Manen refers to this process as a type of "pedagogical wondering" (p.18)
According to Van Manen pedagogy, as a notion, is rarely used in the educational English language community and thus there is an opportunity to develop a pedagogical language that is "a more sensitive attuning to the reality of the adult-child relations." (p.11). This "sensitive attuning" may speak to some of the experiences we had as parents reflecting on the parent-child-nature relationship during my study. Such an example emerging from my study maybe in the experience described by participating parents as the parent and child learning and growing together — a kind of reciprocating pedagogy.
This is so exciting for me in this phase of my research! It makes me think that possibly nature as partner in the adult-child reality has a role to play in influencing pedagogy or "pedagogical tact". Or at least is a platform to isolate and explore the parent-child relation and how a pedagogy may develop.
Perhaps the PCN relationship provides the parent an opportunity to explore their own "sensitive personal pedagogy" or "thoughtful pedagogy" with their child or children. I think this could be an interesting angle in my analysis in my research.
As part of my analysis, there could be an opportunity to identify "pedagogical moments" (p.35) in the experience of the PCN relationship for families who participated in this study. Van Manen describes a pedagogical moment as "...the ability to actively distinguish what is good or appropriate from what is less suited or inappropriate for children or young people in a particular moment" (p.35)
Other quotes that ground and provoke ideas around a "thoughtful pedagogy" emerging around the PCN relationship from the book so far:
"The practice of cultivating one's pedagogical thoughfulnesss and tact is the response to the challenge of approaching each situation with respect and attentiveness" (p.35)
"It is knowledge that issues from the heart as well as from the head" (p.35)
Phenomenological Reflections on Pedagogy or Pedagogical Stories p.14
"...long-term latency of pedagogical events belongs to the silent secrets of the narrative themes of our lives." (p.16)
"Of course, the child also influence the adult. The pedagogical relation is complex, and in part it signifies also a process of self-development and self-understanding for the adult" (p.17)
"...the unfolding of our pedagogic nature." (p.19)
"Upon reflection the meaning of pedagogy in the adult-child relation is profoundly enigmatic." (p.20)
"...I use the term "pedagogy" to refer to this primordial adult-child relation that is biological and cultural, ancient and present, mundane and mysterious, sensuous and sensitive to the ethical demand as it is experienced in pedagogical relations, situations and actions." (p.20)
Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together (2012)
Edited by Julie Dunlap and Stephen R. Kellert.
I found it really interesting that in the preface of this book it is recognized that most nature literature is a reflection from the solitary observer rather than from the observer sharing the experience such as a child and adult (p.15). Ahoy: A gap in research!
Through a collection of essays, from adults spending time in nature with children, this book seeks to understand how children and adults explore nature together (p.17). Awesome!!
Although I haven't got to the essays themselves I love the preface to this book! It highlights Rachel Carson's vision for adults and children exploring nature together in her 1956 essay "Help your child to Wonder". Including Carson, there are many authors quoted and referenced in this preface who are authorities on this subject matter through research, lived experience and observation. Further anecdotes and advice are provided around meaningful ways to engage young children to adolescents in the natural world. (I'll share some below!)
Although this book recognizes that the adult-child-nature relationship is important, it is also recognizes that it is not fully understood. (A gap!) The editors also take a cautionary tone, warning to self-interrogate our roles as adults in enhancing the child-nature connection; "Yet in facilitating regular nature contact for children, adults must take care not to become barriers to connections themselves" (p.13). So with nature's virtually limitless possibilities, how can adults "...maximize the possibilities of outdoors, including emotional and sensory interactions, while still keeping children safe?" (p.13) Can we resist our temptations to over supervise and shape the experience? Another great question posed worth researching is " How does the presence of an adult change a free, unstructured outdoor experience?" (p.13). Interesting questions to consider.
So from here I would like to share some of my favourite quotes and tips from the preface of the book on how adults can enhance nature-contact experiences with children "...that endure in children's memories and shape their futures." (p.13) We hope in the best ways! However although these are my favourites from the book the editors still note; “Yet evidence is not clear on the optimal approach once adults and children are under the sky together.” (p.11)...I'll say it again: A GAP!
Things to consider as adult "Companions in Wonder":
(Tips and quotes from the preface)
Rachel Carson author of "A Sense of Wonder" (1956)
"It is not so important to know as to feel." (p.4)
"If facts are the seeds of children's knowledge and understanding, then emotions are the fertile soil they need to grow." (p.12)
"With your child, look at objects you take for granted as commonplace or uninteresting.” (p 2)
Stephen Kellert author of "Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection" (2005)
How the experience influences the emotional, cognitive and spiritual development of the child influences how the child absorbs the experience over time (p.12). Kellert believes that direct nature contact such as in the backyard to local parks and beyond provides this influence over time versus more indirect nature contact experiences such as visits to the zoo or aquarium.
The most beneficial direct contact experiences considers the developmental stages of the child:
0-5 years: direct contact with familiar animals and natural spaces
6-12 years: “…thrive when venturing further afield, investigating wild animals and habitats and creating tree forts and other outdoor shelters to explore their autonomy.” (p.12)
Adolescence: unfamiliar or wilderness settings, riskier challenges
Mary Rivkin author of "The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children's Right to Play Outside" (1995)
- "...freedom as a basic value to outdoor play" (p.13)
-"Not only is there typically more space out-of-doors, there is less in that space to bump into, break, or lost parts of. One's body is no longer under need of tight control — its capabilities to shout, sing, leap, roll, stretch, and fling are unleashed." (p.13)
Stephen Trimble co-author of "The Geography of Childhood" (1995)
“As parents, our job is to pay attention, to create possibilities – to be careful match-makers between our children and the Earth.” (p.16)
Richard Louv author of "Last Child in the Woods" (2005)
“It takes time – loose unstructured dreamtime — to experience nature in a meaningful way” p.11
"The young child is a creature of the meadow, and the meadow lives inside him" (Sobel, 2011, p. 41)
The meadow is a metaphor developed by Sobel to describe safe, nearby and close to parent exploration of the natural world during early childhood; 2- 6 years (Sobel, Wild Play, p.37). Sobel advocates for establishing a safe and trusting family bond as a precursor for bonding with the natural world (p. 39). Sobel acknowledges that our culture's obsession with cleanliness and fostering independence early on that can interfere with a child's sense of safety in experiencing the natural world...or the meadow (p.37, 38).
To counter these concerns, Sobel explains how a child's natural tendency to put everything in their mouth can create the conditions for a healthy intestinal system which boosts immunity (p. ...). Also more advocacy for what Sobel calls a "slow childhood" seems beneficial to all members of the family.
Once in the meadow of early childhood, a sense of empathy and bond for the natural world around, can be encouraged and developed through explorations, reflections, story telling, nature-role playing and metaphors (p. 39). Another benefit of exploring the meadow of early childhood is the rich learning environment it provides in supporting the expansive development of language during these early years (p. 39). Infusing language development while in or in reference to the natural world, can also have the benefit of an early sense of interdependence between our everyday lives and nature - increasing the bond (p. 40).
" Your shoes are lined up just the way the swallows sit on the telephone wire" (p.40) is an Sobel example of a nature metaphor in everyday conversations.
I love this idea and didn't realize we did this until I thought of my own example of a nature metaphor we use in our everyday lives: connecting the phases of the moon with eating our circles of cucumber. This is something I would like to be more conscious of and record! I love that this could support the early concept of interdependence between our everyday lives and nature.
Language as a powerful tool to how we come to understand the world we live in ..... need to explore further...
Mystical and magical...Sobel believes that "Cultivating such imaginative worlds in nature during childhood can nurture an ability to access wonder and delight that persists into adult life" (p.41)
It makes me think of our "secret path" to our house from the green space to our backyard. I would like to explore this more by creating stories around our secret path through the forest into our yard. Also I would still like to find a creative way to name our 13 mature spruce trees in the backyard and find a magical troll to place under our bridge connecting the patios in the back!
I think if we can nurture our creative minds and spirits in the outdoors to support our children's we will reconnect to our former child in nature. It also concerns me that if we are not providing the space or opportunities for our children to develop this sense of deep magic and wonderment in the natural world who will support and nurture the next generation's?
Sobel describes the following barriers for children spending time outside ...or having a "shortened childhood":
-"timesickness" : "the feeling that there's never enough time" for parents (p.23)
- Bogeyman Syndrome: parents' disproportional fear of risk for their children as a result of "the rampant media-ization of our lives" (p,24)
- Electronic diversions (p.24)
- two working parents (p.25)
- Schools increasingly high academic standards at earlier ages (p.25)
- Organized sports starting earlier in childhood (p.25)
A shortened childhood is of deep concern for Sobel. He prescribes to a long childhood of play as having a built in evolutionary purposes... (p.29)
To explain his feelings around the benefits of a slow childhood, Sobel quotes Henry David Thoreau: "The more slowly tress grow at first, the sounder they are at the core" (p.28)
To counter the severing effects of these barriers on the child-nature relationship/bond, Sobel turns to the role of parents in setting limitations as well as "providing alternatives that engage children deeply" (p.25)
To provide these alternatives Sobel suggests prioritizing outdoor play and he develops a framework that is age appropriate for engaging children outdoors that can be accessed as a kind of 'trail map' for parents to follow (Sobel, p.26-28)
"...making sure that the alternative magic of the natural world has enough chances to work on them and take hold during those early years" (p.25)
The Landscape of Childhood is a metaphor developed by Sobel suggesting a trail guide through "varied habitats" for providing developmentally appropriate ways to engage children in nature play (Sobel, 2011, p.27). Sobel explains that "each stage we are designed to seek something different with the outside world" (p. 27). Sobel suggests that adults in varied roles engaging with children in the outdoors will benefit from being "aware of the lay of the land in the child-nature landscape" (p.28). This awareness provides adult companions in nature with an age appropriate context for successfully engaging children in natural settings with the goal to develop an affinity with the natural world.
The Landscape of Childhood (p. 27-28)
The meadow of early childhood
The forest of early elementary years
The rocky outcrops of early adolescence
" Looking back over the result, it strikes me that I didn't really understand the developmental issues at work or the appropriate ways for children to engage with nature until I was in each stage, working out the relationships among my children, the natural world, and myself. And the writing process itself helped me understand what I experienced and what I believe." David Sobel, p. 31, Wild Play (2011)
"...I hoped the journal would help me to listen more closely and to capture fleeting observations and reflections." Sobel, p.31, Wild Play (2011)
"The process of keeping a journal about my children helped me to be a better parent and allowed me to think about how I wanted to cultivate their biological inclinations toward nature."
Sobel also goes on to describe parenting and journalling as a type of ethnography (2011, p.33)...when a parent reflects as an observer and participant in the culture of their family life.
1. What kind of parent-child-nature relationship do we want to cultivate? David Sobel ,p. 29, Wild Play (2011)
- How can family nature clubs help to nurture and cultivate a parent-child-nature relationship?
2. Parenting in nature:
-How is it different?
David Sobel, p.30, Wild Play (2011)
In the preface of Wild Play (2011), Sobel describes the importance and challenges of fulfilling his goal to be a good father. He describes the stereotyped traits of a good dad (such as; knowing how to fix the plumbing). He then goes on to extend this list to less tangible traits such as being emotionally present as a father. He describes being emotionally present as "...more love than guidance or criticism." p. 13). Creating the circumstances for children to bond with the natural world may include, according to Sobel, being emotionally present.
Presence is something that comes up a lot for me when I am reflecting on my relationship with my son in the natural world. Instead of designing the experience to meet my expectations, I feel that the parent-child-nature experience is more fulfilled when I come into this state. Allowing time to slow down, I have observed, is a result of spending time outside. I think this sense that a child can receive from their own time outside is a benefit...but even more so when they can feel this slowing of time and presence from their own caregiver. I feel that as a parent, that a state of presence, can be the most difficult thing to model for our children. Sobel used the term "time sickness" to describe the feeling that there is never enough time in modern parenting (p.23). This feeling resonates with me as strikes me how important in can be to spend time parenting in nature.
Sobel describes his motivations for wanting to bridge childhood and nature in his family's experience in the preface. (A question that would be great to develop for parents participating in my FNC program and study) Some motivations include: replicating meaningful nature experiences from his own life, psychological benefits of nature play, the natural world as an important learning environment (just as important as the traditional school experience) (p. 13,15 & 17).
He writes this book as a parent first for other parents "...who desire, as I did and do, that their children grow up with dirt under their fingernails, glints of sunlight in their eyes, and a deep sense of hope about life on earth." (p.19).
This is a theme I have heard from other parents: "We want our kids to grow up knowing what nature is." Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Parent