Nurturing Nature in Kids

By Linda Chaiko-Lepley

If you’re spending time outdoors with your children and instilling in them a love of nature, give yourself a pat on the back! But, if you’re reading this article and feel a tinge of guilt that your child might be spending more time in front of a screen, and less time out exploring nature, read on.

We get it, many of us our busier than ever and sometimes the easiest way to keep everyone happy is by allowing screen time. Not to mention that the Sacramento region really heats up in the summer months! Even so, this article reminds us how much our kids can learn by spending time appreciating nature, even in the simplest forms.

A young mother entered a classroom with her three-year-old son. She asked if her son could stay in the room during class and promised he would be very quiet. The teacher agreed, and the young mother seated her son in the back of the classroom and carefully placed a small laptop computer in his lap. The little boy was very proficient at using the computer, and for the entire class (2.5 hours), he quietly and attentively played on his computer.

This little boy is not the only child connected to his computer. Since the advent of the Internetincluding social media, cell phones and video gamessociety has lost touch with nature and is becoming increasingly connected to technology. Research studies indicate that about 80% of children average about six to eight hours daily on electronic media including computers, cell phones and video games. These children are an example of children who are experiencing “nature deficit,” a term coined by Robert Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods”. In this book Louv argues that children are losing touch with nature and are playing less and less outside. As a result, a fear and dislike of nature has developed, and children do not understand it.   

Additional factors that are contributing to our weakening connection with nature is disappearing open space as more and more homes are built, increased traffic, and children playing increasingly less outdoors, not only due to technology, but also parents’ concern about their children’s safety in a world of increasing dangers. The importance of teaching children about nature in our schools has also diminished.

When Josena a board member of the Placer Nature Center (PNC), former naturalist at PNC and now a preschool teacher, was studying to become a teacher, she noticed that not one of her early childhood education classes included any classes about nature and children.

Josena often sees this disconnect with nature among her students, “When the children see a bug,” explains Josena, “they immediately stomp on it, and squish it.” According to Josena, instead of stomping on that bug, we should protect it because it is someone’s food source. “We should teach these children that this bug is a live creature and an important part of our ecosystem,” she explains. “The children should look closer at it, and learn about it, instead of destroying it.”

Josena has also seen this disconnect with nature among the other teachers at her school. In the playground where Josena teaches, there is a bird’s nest which she has been using to teach the children about birds. However, no other teacher is including the nest in their curriculum. “I can barely get them to look at the nest,” says Josena.

Another factor contributing to our disconnect with nature is our unawareness of where our food comes from. Everything comes from the grocery store either laid out neat and clean in the produce section, in a can, or package wrapped. “Children don’t appreciate where their food comes from,” explains Roger, a docent at Placer Nature Center. One day when Roger was talking to a group of children about gardening at PNC, and he pulled a carrot out of the ground the children were horrified. “They were horrified and screamed because the carrots were dirty,” he explains.

Linda Dasai, co-founder of the Placer Nature Center, board member, and former education director of the center, describes an incident when a docent at the nature center had a group of young children, and they were at a bridge where blackberry bushes flourished. The docent began talking about the amount of black berries in the area, but the children seemed confused.  Several of them attempted to correct the docent by saying that a blackberry was a phone and not a berry bush.

Children who either fear or try to dominate nature, will not see our environment and the wonders of nature as something that needs to be cherished, enjoyed, respected, and protected. Protecting today’s environment in a world of dwindling resources and growing populations is becoming increasingly important. One of the major ways to protect our natural environment is by educating future generations about the wonders and vulnerabilities of today’s environment, so that these generations come to appreciate it and want to protect it.

Teaching children about nature will not only lead to better stewardship of our world, but will also help children in several other ways. Science tells us that the brain learns when its senses are used. Being outdoors in nature is a multi-sensory experience. Therefore, by just smelling the flowers, listening to the wind or a babbling brook, or feeling the cold rushing water, our senses are being stimulated, and our brain is learning. This is especially important for young children whose brains are still developing.

Teaching our children about nature will not only make them better stewards of this world, and increase their learning ability by stimulating their senses, but according to Louv, children who are not afraid of nature, who get out and enjoy it, have better concentration in school and experience fewer emotional problems.

To get the benefits of experiencing nature, does one have to go on a long hike in the woods, or swim in a rushing river? The answer is ‘No’. The answer is as simple as taking a walk in the woods, spending time in your backyard garden or just sitting in your backyard and observing nature using all of your senses. You can enjoy nature to whatever extent you wish. The important thing is that you include nature as a part of your life and your children’s lives. You will both reap the benefits that nature has to offer.

Linda Chaiko-Lepley, Staff Naturalist, Placer Nature Center. Learn more about local nature programs at http://placernaturecenter.org/.

Ready to get back to nature?

August 4th

Saturday Safari
10:30am at Effie Yeaw Nature Center
Grab binoculars to catch a closer glimpse of the animals and plants that make up the unique habitat along the American River.
www.sacnaturecenter.net

August 5th
Reptile Rapture
1:30pm at Effie Yeaw Nature Center
Can a turtle climb out of its shell? Do snakes blink? Can you really tell the age of a rattlesnake by the number of buttons on its rattle?
www.sacnaturecenter.net

August 7-9
Dinosaur Discovery Summer Day Camp
9am to 1pm at Placer Nature Center
On the land, in the sea, and in the air – dinosaurs everywhere! Come and learn about their different sizes, names, behaviors, adaptations and habitats on ancient Earth.
http://placernaturecenter.org/

August 11th
Volunteer Work Day
10am to noon at Placer Nature Center
Help the staff complete projects around the nature center.
http://placernaturecenter.org/

August 11, 18, 25
Story Book Trail
11am to 1:30pm at Placer Nature Center
A unique reading experience for preschool children and their caregivers and a walk on a ‘trail’ of pages from the story.
http://placernaturecenter.org/

August 12th
Eureka!
1:30pm at Effie Yeaw Nature Center
Get your hands on a pan and catch gold fever! Learn about some of the local Gold Rush history and get your hands dirty as you learn how to pan for gold in hopes of striking it rich.
www.sacnaturecenter.net

August 19th
Bugs and Beyond!
1:30pm at Effie Yeaw Nature Center
Explore the amazing world of invertebrates! Learn how to find, handle, sketch and identify various hoppers, crawlers, fliers, swimmers and slimers of the Preserve.
www.sacnaturecenter.net

August 26th
Owl Be Seeing You
1:30pm at Effie Yeaw Nature Center
When are owls most active? Can they turn their heads all the way around? Discover how you can find out exactly what they have eaten.
www.sacnaturecenter.net

Find even more ways to explore nature in our calendar at www.SacramentoParent.com.

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