As busy parents, we are often speeding from one task to the next. Setting up activities for our children, homeschooling them just seems like too much work.
Hey parents, aren’t you glad it’s autumn? When weather cools down from the summer, (although we can’t rely on the pool option,) we can still rely on the good weather and our backyard to deliver some much needed play time for the young ones while we sit back with our coffees.
This is the perfect time for our children to learn independent play before the winter hits. I’m so inspired by nature this fall that I did some research.
Along with my own experiences, here are the 7 reasons we should let our children run and free play in nature this fall.
7 Lessons Nature Teaches Your Child
1) Seasons, Weather, Temperature
Reading weather books is great. But there’s nothing like the experience of feeling the first rain drops on your head; or watching the clouds go by on the swing; or feeling the gust of wind on your cheeks. The child learns about seasons, weather and temperature by using the child’s senses. For example, the first words from my son about the weather were his experiences: Rain, Color, Snow, White, Cloud, Sky, Sun, Moon, Hot, Cold. Slowly, as the child ages, these experiences imprint in the child’s memory of what the seasons are like; what the weather’s like and whether it’s hot or cold.
2) Colors, Shapes
Rather than playing color games or using the shape sorter, step outside instead. To elaborate on the learning of colors and shapes, see if your child can find them in nature. I remember the time when JJ loved to walk around the perimeter of the sandbox. I thought he was just using it as a balance beam. But, one day, he said “..angle” for “triangle”. Your child is learning even when they don’t look like they are. After that incident, we frequently point out shapes and colors in nature together.
Have you ever went on a hike and thought “are we there yet”? Day after day, you shuttle your child to the same playground, to the same backyard and to the same beach. Your child feels the same feeling of “are we there yet”. By repeating this pattern over and over, each time discovering simple joys of leaves changing; nuts to find; dirt to dig and mud pies to bake; nature is saying to your child that in creativity we can always find fun. In fun, we are taught patience. When a child can enjoy creating a mud pie for 20 minutes just to experience the fun of smashing it to bits in 2 seconds, that child has learned to be patient for 20 minutes.
In nature all around us, there are living creatures. Plants, ants, bugs, flies, ducks, geese and pigeons are all around us. These living creatures spark the curiosity of the child. With intervention from adults, that child can learn to treat them with respect. “Gentle touch please.” “Don’t squash that. The worm hurts.” “Let’s let the bugs run free.” When adults model loving feelings toward nature, the child learns empathy for living creatures large and small.
Toddlers or Preschoolers usually have short attention spans on activities. However, when doing what they are interested in, they can sustain attention for a longer period of time. Nature provides opportunities for curiosity and interest. “Where’s that worm we dug up yesterday.” “Is the butterfly out today?” “Look, leaves are falling from the trees. Let’s play in it.” I’m always amazed at my son’s lengthy play sessions on playgrounds, in sandboxes and on hikes that we go on. The boy usually does not sit still at all at home. Practice sustained concentration on activities of interest will lengthen a child’s concentration overall.
5) Multissensorial Learning
Everyone has 6 senses: vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, proprioception (sense of balance). A child has just become aware of these 6 senses. This child is very sensitive when hearing new sounds, seeing new patterns, tasting new dishes or touching new shapes. This sensitivity helps the child learn about the world around them. In nature, there are smells, sounds and colors all around. The child who is tuned in with nature is activating all of these senses all at once to learn about nature.
6) Simple Fun
When nature is the playground, everything in nature is a toy to explore. Nature’s toys are simple: a stick, a bunch of leaves and a tree stump. When a child learns to enjoy exploring the bark of the tree, feeling the mud in his hands, playing with rocks and stepping on crunchy leaves, the child learns that fun is found in simple packages. Indoor toys are great for academic learning. But, nature offers a place to run, chase, dig and hide. These simple joys of childhood teaches the child about creating fun with objects all around us.
Nature is beautiful. Even in the winter when all the leaves fall out of the trees, the barren trees lined up creating a beautiful scene. A child with all his senses activated will learn beauty first hand from nature. This child will learn to create games to play in nature. A simple chasing game can have elaborate rules that the child makes up; Playing with leaves can involve stirring leaves into a pot to make “leaf soup”; Playing in a water puddle can involve skipping rocks and seeing the waves that develop and expand. Creativity leads to more creativity.
After a long extended play session in nature, do you ever notice your child’s extended concentration, fun demeanor and exploding creativity afterwards? That is what nature is teaching your child – all the lessons that you want to be teaching your preschooler.
Save the teaching for nature, we shall all be sipping our lattes and watching our children learn from the master.
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