Developing an appreciation for nature begins when we are young. Children routinely and intuitively use all 5 of their senses to experience the world around them however, as adults we often forget how to do this. The following are suggestions for exercises that will create a bonding experience with your child and help to build and foster an appreciation for nature by developing an aesthetic awareness.
Before beginning your outdoor adventure, as always, keep safety in mind including choosing an appropriate location and wearing protective clothing, sunscreen, etc. All of the exercises listed can be done in a backyard, park or more rugged landscape, depending on the age and needs of you and your family. Lastly, remember to keep an open mind and be flexible!
Eyesight is the sense that we rely on most commonly and is a major player in helping us to identify and understand the world around us. Try asking some of these questions to build up an awareness of the visual world around your little one. You just may be surprised at what you can find!
- What do you see in the sky? On the ground? In the trees? In the water?
- Pick a color and ask your child what they see that matches that color.
- Pick a shape and ask your child what they see that matches that shape.
- Do you see any animals? How many? Do you see a nest or burrow?
- Do you see any flowers? Are they all the same or different? What kind are they?
- What do you see when you look up? Down? Left? Right?
We have all been in the position where we are walking through a store, looking around and before you know it your hand shoots out because you just have to feel that item. Sometimes our children do this with disastrous consequences, i.e. “you break it, you buy it”. When performing these exercises be extra vigilant of your children, there is much they can learn by engaging their sense of touch but you don’t want them accidentally touching poison ivy. Yikes!
- Try asking how does the grass feel? A rock? Pebble? Bark? Leaf? Dirt? Water?
- If you are feeling adventurous, you can do this in the rain or snow too.
- Point out contrasting elements like smooth/rough, warm/cold, wet/dry, or prickly/soft.
Practicing our listening skills is important no matter what our age. Hearing is also a very important sense because, in addition to bringing you joy and enriching your life, it can also alert you to impending danger. To help your child hone in on their sense of hearing so that they may learn about and appreciate the world around them, try asking the following questions:
- Do you hear any birds? If so, how many? Are they the same or different?
- Do you hear any other animal sounds? What do you think is making the sound?
- Is it windy? Can you hear the wind?
- Do the leaves make any sound in the trees or if you walk through them?
- Do you hear any water nearby? A waterfall? Brook? Fountain? Splashing?
- What sound do your shoes (or bare feet) make on the ground?
- What sounds do rocks or sticks make if you tap them together?
*NOTE: This can also be a very fun activity at night during the warmer months, because your sense of sight is so limited that you need to rely on your hearing a bit more.
Have you ever smelled something and immediately been reminded of a memory or experience from long ago? That’s because our olfactory sense is directly connected to both emotional and memory producing parts of our brain. Perhaps some of the scents you find during this activity will link to fond memories of bonding between you and your child.
- Ask, what do you smell?
- Do you smell any animals?
- Do you smell anything stinky? Good smelling?
- Do you smell any flowers?
- Do different flowers have different smells?
- Does water have any smell? (This is especially good if you are near the ocean or marsh.)
This is a sense that children attempt to use quite often to learn about their environment. However, it is imperative that you set the situation up to keep your child safe. Obviously we don’t want our children putting dirt or yellow snow in their mouths, so I recommend performing this activity by trying different fruits after picking your own fruit from a farm with this option. While indulging in the benefits of your hard work, you can ask the following questions to build an awareness of tastes and textures:
- How does it taste? Sweet? Bitter? Salty? Sour? Savory?
- How does it feel in your hand? What about in your mouth?
- It is hot, cold, warm?
- It is crunchy or squishy?
These exercises can be done throughout the year and in different environments. There is always a new place or way for you and your child to practice these exercises and learn something together. By dialing into your senses, you can build a greater awareness and appreciation of the natural world and initiate a sense of wonder and awe!
To learn more about why reconnecting with nature is important read Learning to Reconnect With Nature…and Yourself