Stars, silent and distant, have the power to bring my brisk pace to a full and complete stop – bags and belongings in hand in my driveway with darkness all around. To my naked eye stars appear only as specks of light gracing the night sky, yet they ground me with their diamond-like beauty that reaches every part of our globe regardless of place, circumstance or time.Sun sparkling on water, undulating and slow movements of ice breaking up in the spring, walking on a forest floor thick with pine needles, the smell of clover, the chatter of robins, chickadees, and migrating geese – nature renews my hurried, distracted or tired spirit.
Richard Louv in his book “The Nature Principle” argues that connection to nature is visceral and valuable to most people. According to Louv “the Nature Principle suggests that, in an age of rapid environmental, economic and social transformation, the future will belong to the nature-smart – those individuals, families, businesses and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of nature and who balance the virtual with the real.” (The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, p. 4)If this is so, what are the implications for young children whose worlds are increasingly shaped by technology? Families’ living spaces and economic circumstances often impact the time children have to play outdoors.
Children who live in urban settings where park areas are not close by, families who live in apartments or dwellings that don’t offer safe outdoor play spaces, and families who struggle with work schedules or transportation options face different challenges for outdoor play than families living on farms or in rural areas. Parents and caregivers can and do meet their unique challenges to increase children’s exposure and time in nature. Some too follow the lead of many early learning educators who help bridge children’s disconnect with nature by bringing nature indoors. Bright, single-purpose plastic toys are giving way to materials found in nature that offer children endless possibilities. Children build and create with, and examine tree cookies, feathers, sticks, leaves, stones, shells, plants, and more during play indoors. Early learning educators also use carefully chosen books to build children’s curiousity about nature.
A Rock Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas uses vibrant illustrations to show how rocks have inherent stories to tell by how they look and how they are used throughout the world. The few words on each page rhyme, sparking children’s imaginations, conversations and ways of relating their own experiences with rocks to places they have never visited.
Lois Ehlert weaves a story about leaves that must ‘go where the wind blows”. In her book called Leaf Man, each page is cut like the edges of tree leaves, layering both the pages and leaf illustrations. Children may spend a lot of time looking to see what creatures or details they can see amongst the leaves and to listen for the sounds they imagine or hear outdoors. They may also become inspired to create or tell stories of their own leaf man with leaves they find outside.
The board book I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis tells a simple story of a child who takes the moon with him, discovering the mysteries of his world at night, as well as light and shadow as the moon rises and sets.
Step Gently Out by Helen Frost is an exquisitely photographed book for young children. Each photo magnifies insects that we most frequently only glimpse quickly outdoors. The words, though simple, invite children to become patient and curious observers.
As winter turns to spring, as snowsuits give way to rubber boots, we too can “Step gently out, be still and watch a single blade of grass.”