Listen. What do you hear?
Look. What do you see?
Breathe. What do you smell?
Touch. What do you feel?
I continually ask my daughter to take a moment. To hold still. Now, for those who don’t know my daughter, and her natural state of continuous motion, this is not an easy thing to ask. But, every once in awhile, I am given the gift of that moment and, miraculously, she becomes still. I see her listen, look, breathe, and stretch her fingers outward. Her busy brain calms, focuses, and revels in that elusive element that all brains need. Time. Time to process. Time to connect. Time to understand. Time to remember. Time to learn. And, time to fall in love with nature.
Human beings, young and old, have a need for nature. We are connected to nature in so many ways. We evolved with everything outside our windows. Everything growing, crawling, running, flying. We need the nourishment of the sunlight and the wonder of the moonlight. Our species needs nature and this generation must fall in love with nature. Otherwise, there will be no one left to realize our interdependence and to protect it for future generations.
The 21st Century is a busy time and, nowadays, children need to be taught to slow down. They have school, homework, sports, music lessons, computers, iPads, iPhones, and Kindles. They need to keep up with texting, tweets and Facebook. When I was teaching I had my students use their cell phones to track their screen time, type and duration. The project came about when I realized each of my kiddos had a cell phone but not all of them were sure where the sun rises and sets. So, I had a project that I could use to teach various standards, an opportunity for students to see how they were spending their time, and a jumping board for future projects that dealt with the outside world. Win. Win. And win.
When we graphed our results the students in my class spent an average of 8 hours a day in front of a screen (television, tablets, computers, cell phones). I was positive our numbers were off until I did a little research. Our numbers were accurate. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American 8- to 18-year-olds spend more than 7 hours per day with media (Screen time and children, 2011). This will add up to 7 to 10 years by the time they reach 70! I am certainly not advocating against technology and media but there needs to be a balance. And, more importantly, there needs to be a balance with nature.
So, my first blog is to offer an idea that is simple, easy and quick. Teaching stillness. And if my energetic little girl can do it, anyone can do it! You can do it in your backyard or a nearby open space. Step outside with your child and hold still. Close your eyes and focus on what you can feel. The sunlight hitting your face. Is the wind a gentle breeze or are the gusts bringing in a storm? What do you hear? Birds calling to one another? Water gurgling over winter ice? Only the blasts of a strong wind? The silence that comes with a snowfall? Open your eyes and take a moment to really look around you. Do you see the winter robins (not all of them migrate!)? Are the clouds moving quickly or slowly? Is the grass bowing with the wind? Walk around and touch a few things, it doesn’t really matter what. The bark of a tree. The surface of a boulder. The blades of the dry grass. The smoothness of backyard ice.
If you do this with your child often they will begin to do it independently. My daughter will randomly mention the color of the mountains or yell for me when the sun is setting. My son is always watching to see if the clouds are moving. We must stop 50 times on bike rides to look at all of the bugs they see crawling on the sidewalk.
The first step to learning about and loving nature is to simply notice that it is there.
Connecting Nature and Education!
Start a sense journal!
Depending on the age of your kiddos you can have them draw pictures about what they noticed, write about their experience outside, or take pictures to print off and glue into the journal.
Try observing the same location for a set duration and at the same time each day. Then, change the time but keep the location the same. Notice similarities and differences. For example, go into your backyard at 6pm each night, Sunday through Saturday. The following week go into your backyard at 6am, Sunday through Saturday. Spend a minimum of 5-minutes (about 1 minute per sense depending on if you are going to try to incorporate taste). Record observations in your journal.
Choose various locations but keep the time of day the same. For instance, each day at 6pm for one week spend time observing, with your senses, different locations. Your backyard, a friends backyard, a local park, a local open space, a state park. Record your observations in your journal and discuss the similarities and differences.
For those of you who have family or friends spread around the globe do the experiments together! Each group observes their individual locations but at the same time. It could be each of your porches or an area that is unique to your region. Use Skype to share what your senses picked up. Children can draw pictures of what they saw and show them on Skype or simply talk about it. Excellent for developing speaking and listening skills. If your child is older you could do this via email. It would be wonderful practice for their typing, writing and communication skills!
Or, simply go outside as a family. Take 5-minutes to enjoy and notice what your senses pick-up and then chat about it with each other. It’s amazing what my children notice that I do not. It’s fulfilling watching them get excited about their discoveries. And, it’s nice having a short amount of time where all of our attention is on the moment, nature and each other.
Screen time and children. (2011, 7 1). Retrieved January 13, 2014, from MedlinePlus: Trusted Health Information for You:http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm