Children Learn Through
Do you remember when you were a
child? Your parents would tell you everyday not to get
dirty while you were playing outside? My mom used to tell
me not to touch slimy critters, pick up dead animals, “and
for Pete’s sake stay out of the puddles!” The importance
was on getting a good education from school, not the
outdoors. My dad would sit in his Lazy-Boy recliner with
his feet up comfortably, staring blankly at the muted
television set, while I sat at the kitchen table doing my
homework. “Study hard or you won’t get anywhere in life,”
my dad would say in his authoritative voice. “Sure dad,” I
would say under my breath, then go outside while there was
I pacified my dad with good grades, he wasn’t very
attentive to my love for the outdoors, not to mention the
educational aspects the world around us has to offer. As a
matter of fact, he would get pretty upset when I came home
with strange looking bugs or garter snakes (harmless
creatures). He would disturbingly awaken from his comfort
zone, in his Lazy-Boy, to tell me to get those things out
of the house and wash my hands. “Don’t ever pick those
disease-infected creatures up again!” he would screech,
while my mom stood on the kitchen chair with a garbage bag
ready to dispose of my interesting specimens.
Today, my house is different. My two
boys love to learn by touching, feeling and observing
everything from ants to poison ivy. Exploring what nature
has to offer a young curious mind, will without a doubt,
teach respect, love, and knowledge of the world around us
including animals, insects, and reptiles.
All children, by nature, love to
learn; it’s exciting, fun, and adventurous. That is what I
have always shared with my children, my love and
excitement for the world around me, and learning something
new every day from nature‘s school-house.
learn by example. They look up to us and mirror our
beliefs and values. So don’t just tell your children how
much fun learning can be, show them! Participate in your
child’s exploration of the world. Look through the eyes of
your six-year-old for the first time as he discovers how a
spider makes a web, or how a caterpillar needs to go
through various stages in order to become a beautiful
butterfly. Become curious in your own nature and ask
open-ended questions for your child to think about such as
“wow! How do you think spiders can make those tiny
fibers?” Or “do you think an ant colony has communities
like humans?” Asking these kinds of questions can help
your child develop a pattern of thinking critical to his
Here are some great ways to get
children involved in exploring nature the fun way:
Take a Hike - not just any hike, a
nature exploration walk. Pack a lunch with plenty of water
and hit the trail.
Bring a tree-identifying book with
you and see how many trees and leaves you and the children
can identify. This is great for children of any age.
Bring a sack or a bag and fill it
with lots of leaves. During your picnic, see if the
children can match the leaves with the picture in the
book, then identify the tree.
Bring the leaves home and have the
children place a few under a thin sheet of white paper,
then, with the edge of a crayon, color over the leaves.
Kids love how the veins and the details of the leaves
really show through the paper.
Bugs - Yep, you read it right. Collect lots of bugs in a
bug container or catcher. You can purchase a bug catcher
very cheaply at a discount store, or you can make your own
from a large jar with holes punched into the lid (we don’t
want to suffocate these little critters). Some children
(okay, not all) love to pick up various insects and creepy
crawlers. You can checkout a book on insects and snakes
from your local library, or go on-line and research what
bugs you have caught. Children love to identify critters
and find out what they like to eat and how they are good
for our environment.
Go out in your yard, or go to a park
with your bug catcher or container. Have the children
collect caterpillars, inch worms, grubs, spiders, and yes,
even garter snakes if your lucky enough to spot one (you
will want to familiarize yourself with poisonous snakes
and spiders in your area, safety comes first).
Bring your critters home (outside
the house might work well). Have one child pick a bug to
identify first, then flip though the pages to find out
what it is. Have an older child read (or you, if you
happen to be the oldest child in the group) and tell the
others all about your friendly critter and its home.
Okay, time to let the critters free!
(And yes, my dad was right, washing your hands would be a
a kid friendly garden - Children love to get dirty, right?
Well, what better way to get your knees dirty than
planting a garden? My eight year old son, at the time,
loved this project (he is now eleven and loves his friends
more). I took my son to the gardening store and he chose
sunflowers for our gardening project. After reading the
back of dozen seed packets, you get the idea of what may
grow in your area the easiest. My son did most of the
work, he was excited to measure each hole and plant each
seed accordingly. When he was done watering the seeds, we
sat in the soon-to-be sunflower garden and drank tea while
looking at a book on how beautiful these flowers will be
when they come up.
Choose seeds with your child and
make sure they are hardy. Also, make sure you are planting
them at the appropriate time of year (this information is
on the back of every seed packet).
Begin digging! Let your child have
the privilege of getting dirty (I don’t think he or she
will complain about that). A tablespoon works just as well
as a garden shovel if you don’t have one.
Once you have dug the holes, place
the seeds in and cover them with dirt. Water gently; you
don’t want to flood your seeds out of the hole.
Now, relax and wait for your lovely
flowers to grow! I have found that through nature,
children and adults can learn amazing things. It is not
always what you learn, but the process you go through in
“Open the eyes of our children and
let them see the beauty before them, untainted” - J.A.
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