Sunday, July 28, 2013

NATURE TIP #4: You Don't Need to Be an Expert!

Many parents and teachers are intimidated to take children out into nature for fear that the kids will ask questions the adult can’t answer. The truth of the matter is that very few people are true nature experts, able to identify the bulk of plants and animals in a given region, or address queries about rocks, clouds, and waterways. And the great news is that you don’t need to be an expert! You simply need to take kids outside, show enthusiasm and respect for the outdoors, and let the child lead the way. If kids ask questions you can’t answer, work together to come up with some plausible explanations and perhaps continue the discovery on the computer when you get home, figuring out the answers together. While out in nature, take on the role of mentor rather than teacher. That means questions are typically far more powerful than answers.  Watch the child carefully, find out what they’re interested in—perhaps some insect, bird, or tree—and then ask them something about it. “Why do you think that squirrel spends so much time in trees?” “How big do you think that cloud really is?” The key is to power up imaginations and help to inspire wonder and awe. Oh yeah, and have fun! 

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Seeking Help on My Current Book

I believe that the disconnect between humans and nature ranks among the most pressing and overlooked crises of our time, threatening the healthy of children and adults, and the places they live.

Countless organizations--from natural history museums to zoos to botanic gardens to environmental educators--claim to be connecting people with nature. But when I went out searching for a single, encompassing how-to guide on nature connection, I couldn't find one. As a result, following several years of research, I'm now immersed in writing a general audience book (for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press) on this subject, researching the art and science of connecting people (and especially kids) with nature.

I know that many of you have a love of nature, as well as experience connecting others to the natural world. So I'm seeking your assistance. If you know of any great ways to forge an emotional bond between children and nearby nature, please share them with me. Perhaps you know of some recent amazing study, or an organization out there worth profiling. If so, I would be most grateful if you'd share these insights with me. Who knows, maybe your example will end up in the book together with an acknowledgement to you for your contribution!

The 21st Century is the age of crowd-sourcing. Thanks very much in advance to all of you wise owls for sharing your collective knowledge!!

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, July 8, 2013

NATURE TIP #3: Sit-Spot Practice

Find a place close to home that’s immersed in a natural (or semi-natural) setting. Ideally, this place will be in your backyard, so that it’s easy to get to. Visit this spot regularly—preferably daily or at least several times a week—and sit quietly there, observing with all your senses. Stay each time for 30-40 minutes, breaking visits into 10-minute intervals. Listen for birds and other animals, tracking your observations with notes and pictures in a nature journal. Encourage the kids in your life to do the same. In this way, with a little patience, anyone can learn the local “bird language,” the acquired skill of understanding the meaning of local animal calls and movements. Sit spot practice will get you in touch with all the wild nature events happening daily around your home. Pretty soon, those random birds will become characters with individual personalities that inform you about the current “mood” of the neighborhood. For more information, check out at a pair of books by Jon Young: “What the Robin Knows” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) and “Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature, Second Edition” (Owlink, 2010, with E. Haas and E. McGown). 

Monday, July 1, 2013

NATURE TIP #2: Venture into the Bubble

An essential ingredient of nature connection is learning to see animals, plants, and other life forms as subjects rather than objects. Young kids do this instinctively. Yet, unfortunately, most of us “grow out of it” during our middle childhood years. One of the best ways I know to maintain and foster this kind of attitude is the “soap bubble technique,” invented by German biologist Jakob von Uexküll. Head outside and picture every creature surrounded by a soap bubble that represents its own individual sensory world. Now imagine being able to step inside the bubble of your choice—say, of a robin, earthworm, or butterfly. No matter what your selection, your world becomes transformed. Because all creatures have highly specialized senses, the experience of colors, smells, tastes, and sounds is very different in your chosen bubble world, as are your motivations. Encourage kids to find their favorite animal, enter the imaginary bubble, and experience this alternate world. To spur thoughts in the right direction, you might ask, “Why do you think that creature is acting that way?” Of course, the soap bubble technique is aided by some knowledge of the sensory world of the creature in question, but such understanding isn’t necessary. It’s the imagination that counts most. Best of all, by adding on new layers of knowledge, this approach can be used effectively with preschoolers all the way up to “university graduate schoolers,” offering an amazing outdoor educational tool.