Working with Nature to Stimulate Your Child's Senses
by Mark J. Stevens
From the first week of our child's birth, we encouraged her connection to nature through all of her senses. Her ears perked up at the sound of the nesting birds' melody. Her eyes opened to the vastness of a mountain lake and her perception increased gradually with each passing week as we said the names of the plants, animals, insects, stones, etc. She smelled and felt the grass, leaves, flowers, and water as we passed through our surroundings. She later tasted the berries we picked for her along the way. And she is still always intrigued by the sound of a passing brook.
We use our imagination to inspire and develop our senses every day. Here are some of the ways you can help your child do so, too:
Follow your nose: You can start in your own garden to stimulate your child's olfactory senses. Plant a garden of flowers and vegetables. Let your child smell the flowers, mint leaves, tomatoes, grass, and other natural wonders in your yard. Also take him or her to the open fields and forest to smell the flowers, the bark, and the different growth. Don't tell them what they must do. Just let them follow your example. Children like to imitate. Bend down and smell the wood and see how quickly your child follows suit. Kids are curious and will be telling you to smell this or that before you know it.
Have a bite: Make sure you clarify to your child that he should only eat things you give him. But once you know how to navigate to the edible mushrooms, berries, and vegetables in the woods and fields, it's snack time! With time, you will realize how many little snacks you can enjoy with your kids along the way. In addition, pack a little picnic with bread, cheese, and fruits. If you are exploring near a clean stream, have a drink to supplement the drink you have with you.
Open your eyes: Look at those little ants and caterpillars below you. It is likely that your child will discover them before you anyway. After all, kids are closer to the ground than you. Give the animals or insects a name. Encourage your child to hold them or even to say "good morning," as our daughter used to do to the ants near our house. Talk about the different color of lichen on the trees or moss on the forest floor. This will encourage your child to observe even closer and to get dirty making new discoveries of their own-opening not only her eyes, but her mind and other senses.
Touch and feel: Fill your hat with acorns, grass, wheat, sticks, and stones. Ask your child to feel the things in the hat-first while looking at the objects. Ask them what each object feels like. Then ask them to touch the objects without looking at them and to guess what they are. This improves your child's sense of feel and his differentiation between different textures. Soon, your child will be gathering new objects and expanding on his or her sense of touch. Also, sit down and feel the wind blowing against your hand and hair. Your child will likely do the same. This will inspire his ears to do their part as well.
Hear the magic: Not only will your child feel the direction in which the wind is blowing, but she will hear the effects of the wind on objects surrounding her. Your child can hear the branches swaying in the wind or the rain pitter-pattering on the leaves on the forest floor. Your child's ears will be touched by the waves on the lake caused by the wind. When there is practically no wind at all, the birds, the bees, and the flowing stream will enchant your child's ears. When simply taking a walk, what does the crunch under your feet on different terrain such as wood, stones, leaves sound like? What is that noise off in the distance-thunder, a falling tree, a howling wolf?
Getting your kids out in nature is the first step to awakening your child's senses for a lifetime of joy and learning. This encourages creativity, independent thinking, and an appreciation for the natural world.
About the Author:
Mark Stevens, author of Luisa's Nature (Wyatt MacKenzie Publishing, Spring 2008), is a news journalist currently working in Europe. Fluent in French, Spanish, and German, he has enjoyed extensive travel much of his life. Shaped by the rural New Jersey setting of his youth, Mark continues to explore the richness of nature with his wife and two children on the outskirts of Munich, Germany. He also belongs to several parenting and nature organizations in the U.S. and Europe. For more information, visit www.luisasnature.com.
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