Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Fabulous Article Ahead of It's Time ~ Or maybe just back to traditional basics!

As an educator and parent I have long believed that the best learning does not always occur in a classroom! Teaching in the remote arctic communities of Canada I learned a great many things from the people I was there to educate. Though I was always a girl of the outdoors and the natural world it was the Inuit of the Canadian arctic who truly instilled in me the significance and value of outdoor education. Immersed in a culture still so intimately linked to it's environment one senses the innate relevance of nature that we all should share and embrace! Is this a new teaching concept? No in reality this dome of sky, forest, land, and sea is the most ancient of classrooms one that for a time has been given less attention.
Parenting in a rural community housing a very small school without a gym within its four walls, we are lucky that the teachers are perhaps forced into the great outdoors for physical education and have started to see the wealth of knowledge to be gained outside the school building yet experiencing nature and all it has to offer is a remarkable gift and educational opportunity which parents and family can bestow! This is why our family spends countless hours walking, biking and camping. Camping trips for us are filled with wonders! From catching tiny lake creatures to talking about the plants we see hiking woodland trails, exploring together and discovering together the secrets mother nature inevitably reveals is a cathartic and most memorable shared experience!
It was a recent David Suzuki Foundation Email featuring a 1956 magazine article, “Help Your Child to Wonder” by the now renowned Rachel Carson which inspired me to write this post expounding the value of outdoors education!
I believe, as did Rachel Carson, introducing your child the these wonders at a young age is an invaluable parenting tool instilling the values of stewardship and environmentalism, but also self-reliance, safety and survival skills, innovations, curiosity, and invention! It is also a great motivational tool for further research, study , and interest development. I am lucky to have a husband well versed in plant, bird, and animal knowledge {he was a biology major in university} and I must admit that I am not completely without similar knowledge. As we hike the trails of our National and Provincial parks we often stop to examine plants, many my children have pointed out, curious, and eager for information. I find children are like sponges when they are in an environment which offers so much fodder for the imagination! We have answers to some of their inquiries but often we have to pull out the plant book or ask others. This makes it a true learning activity for the entire family and one which enriches us all!
Here are a few tips to help enrich your family's relationship with nature and build your child's sense of wonder:
  • Take regular walks and hikes {or if you prefer bike rides~but be sure to make stops along your route}. This could be a great evening or weekend activity or even set aside the same time each week for such an excursion.

  • Though there are probably many wonders just outside your front door vary the experience by taking day trips, camping excursions, or trips to the shore. Research what trails, beaches, and parklands are near you!

  • Invest in field manuals on flora and fauna of the region. Books on plants, birds, animals, and even animal tracks are great resources and are often published in handy compact or pocket sized editions {Peterson's and Smithsonian guides are excellent and comprehensive, though often pricey they are worth their weight in gold}.

  • For younger children or those with less walking experience choose shorter hikes with easier terrain but be sure to gradually increase the difficulty of hikes to provide more exciting experiences and challenges. Older children if conditioned to hiking feel a sense of accomplishment by completing more challenging ventures.

  • Be aware of possible natural hazards and safety concerns of the area you are exploring i.e. wildlife concerns such as bears, knowing poisonous plants such as poison ivy, and avoiding the consumption of unknown berries etc. These are important to teach your children and you would be amazed at how diligent they will be with the responsibility of using this knowledge effectively.

  • Though it is wonderful to collect natural things and create collections of these fascinating treasures be sure to follow the rules and guidelines of the parks you are exploring and always consider stewardship and how your actions effect the environment. Preserving leaves and flowers by pressing them, keeping rocks, shells, and cones/seeds in containers divided into small compartments is great for further inspection and research! Rubbings of bark, leaves, and seeds are also fun.

  • Cameras are great for collecting memories of nature. With the invention of digital cameras children can take as many photos as they wish of flora and fauna they encounter without the cost of developing. My children love their personal digital cameras! Digital photos of plants can be a great aid for looking up and comparing information on the Internet.

  • If you are limited to your yard bird feeders are wonderful for introducing birds to your yard and allowing children to see them up close. Vary the types pf feeders and seed to attract varies bird species.

  • Nature scavenger hunts are a great activity both at home or on outdoor trips. See my crafty ideas post on creating your own laminated travelling scavenger hunt card set!

  • Nets and buckets for beach and shoreline excursions, bug collecting cages/jars and butterfly nets are great for temporary collection of living creatures to inspect up close. Small microscopes, magnifying boxes and magnifying glasses help children gain an up-close view of fascinating small water and land creatures!Remember that most children possess an instinctual curiosity and interest in the world which surrounds them. Let your children direct your inquiry of discovery. Do not set out with an agenda but rather with the mind set to explore together as friends. Don't be afraid to admit that you too have things to learn and above all enjoy yourselves!

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