There are many emotions that can be experienced and expressed in a natural environment for ourselves and for our children. Sometimes they are shared and sometimes they offer the opportunity for a deep sharing between parent and child.
Something that I continue to learn about is the phenomena of fear experienced in the natural world; my own, my child's and in other parent-child- nature relationships. There is something raw and beautiful that can occur when fear is expressed within the parent-child-nature relationship that I have experienced and observed.
I've learned how nature experiences can engage fear, often in specific unwanted animal encounters. And with the insights shared from other parents, I've learned how nature can support us in moving beyond our fear. In other words, in natural settings the emotion of fear can be experienced and expressed and with thoughtful and present parental connection around the next corner a nature expereince can offer intrigue, curiosity and laughter.
Snakes to ground squirrels
Protective geese families to wild flowers
Potential bears to rocks (shapes, colours and skipping into water)
Ultimately as parents, we want to protect our children from experiencing fear and as a parent motivated to cultivate a bond with the natural world for my son, fear is typically something I try to avoid while setting out on our urban wild adventures..
But hey, it happens. It's raw, it's natural and it can offer an opportunity for connection, understanding and trust between parent, child and the natural world.
I think the natural world provides the parent-child relationship the space to experience a spectrum of emotions and the opportunity to find a way to articulate, express and understand them. The experiences we have in the natural world can promote a healthy dialogue about emotions, what we can learn from them and how we can move with them and sometimes beyond them — offering connection and resiliency in ourselves and in our parent-child-nature relationship.
"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)
Here, I share some of my concluding take aways from reflecting on my parent-child-nature relationship during this program and study:
Today was our 8th and final event of the spring program and study. I selected a few closing activities; a drumming "sound and seek" game and a "Hoot" rock ceremony. Of course, water was a big part of our morning too!
At our 7th Urban Wild event we had a special guest from City Parks to come chat with us about starting a family nature journal! We then gave it a try!
- Journal while in nature together
- Find a quiet spot together or let it emerge
- Encourage drawing; do a leaf, cone or bark rubbing; trace a shadow!
- Collect a nature object to reflect on,or simply add to journal
- Discuss/write or draw: "What I see; What I feel; What I think; What I wonder...."
-Go over journal as a family, each member can contribute!
-Nature journalling doesn't have to take place in a journal! Create/build something in nature - nature art, family portrait, fairy home!
- The more you practise the more comfortable it becomes...and fun!!
- You can make a "sit matt" so family members can sit on the ground comfortably. To create a simple "sit- matt" take a section of a newspaper and place in a large zip lock bag. A sit-matt can also become a signal for the activity to come - nature journalling or just quiet observation. Some children may even take pride in taking their "sit- matt" to a special spot - a "sit spot".
Create/build your own journal! String different pieces or paper together and attach with yarn.
** Cardboard is essential so there is something firm to write and draw on.**
- Have fun, play and experiment! When it's over it's over!
For this event my son was sick so he was not present. It gave me an opportunity to observe and participate more with the other families. For my reflection I drew a map of our explorations and activities. But I felt that this didn't reflect the full experience...I still needed words. So I started to write words to describe the general feeling of the parent-child-nature experience at each activity site. I recognized a total of five activity sites during this event; playground, pond dipping, snack, dock and stream.
After some experimentation I decided to come up with a bank of words that could describe the various roles that the Parent (P), Child (C) and Nature (N) played in the experience.
(to describe PCN roles in a specific experience):
Assigning these roles turned out to be a difficult task! What I realized was that these roles are not always stationary and evolve with the experience as well as often being fluid between parent, child and nature. I recognize that the meaning of these words in the context of the PCN relationship will vary for each parent and that the outcomes for another parent experimenting with this activity would likely be quite different. However I stuck with the plan to assign one word to each partner to see what would happen. I learned something quite important about my understanding of the PCN relationship - which adds to my appreciation of it! I will share my discovery after showing a six pics from this exercise.
What I realized during this exercise is that nature as a partner in the PCN relationship can often take on the role of "provider" and "facilitator" in the experience. For me this is so important because I often feel that these roles fall into my domain as the parent. Which can be exhausting and can add stress or create tension between the parent-child relationship. What a relief it is to realize I can lean on nature as a partner to provide these roles, in certain contexts, in an experience for my son! It allows me to step out of this role I take on and provide me with some space to: relieve tension; become present; have some autonomy; or just engage in the stillness or playfulness of it all.
Some other words I wanted to add to the word bank were: Invitor (this word doesn't exist!), Inventor, Demonstrator, Player, Leader...
However I wanted to keep the list short and I felt that some of the words were starting to overlap!
If you have other words to describe partner roles you have observed or experienced as part of the PCN relationship- I would love to hear them!
Dandelions, ducklings and special places
I'm starting to realize how it is the everyday things in nature that I often take for granted that are of huge interest for young children...however I think I'm getting better at anticipating this. An example of this was the ground squirrels at Fish Creek and at this event it was the dandelions! It felt like we could have stayed in each of these spots for the whole 1.5 hour program! I wonder what would have emerged then?
As an educator I felt like I should have planned the program around the dandelions however as a parent it was wonderful experiencing the group play unfolding around the dandelions - from picking bouquets, to watching them float down the stream and over a little rapid. I think treating everything as a "teachable moment" can zap some of the magic out of the experience for both adult and child. Which leaves me to contemplate how we as parents choose to participate in our children's emerging play in nature.
Sometimes I choose to direct and shape, sit back and watch or enter in the play. I think all of these choices shape my parent-child-nature relationship in various ways and I think they each have their value in our experience together...it's feeling for the right time to enter into one of these parental roles that can be a challenge.
My favourite moment with Francis today was when he laid on the snack blanket before families arrived and was looking up at the trees - here I had a choice: direct and shape (ex: "What do you see?"), sit back and watch or enter in the play or experience (ex: Lay down beside him.). I choose in this case to snap some pics...which felt more like sit back and watch. However, I felt like I intruded in on the experience...but sometimes I do that and sometimes I enter in and others times it's his very own. Thinking of that as I write this - I realize it was all three! Perhaps it is never really exclusively one or the other in the parent-child-nature relationship...but a careful...no a caring combination.
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
Spring Colours and Feathered Families
What I am left wondering:
Parenting in nature and what we are learning from each other.