GUEST POST NOTE: This week's blog post comes from guest author Michael Barton.
Recently my daughter spent some time with worms. Slithery, slimy, earthworms. It was a nature connection moment that made her day. But she also made the day for several worms, too. Moved from certain shriveling to refreshingly moist dirt, these worms lives, spent working the soil, would continue thanks to a curious young girl.
At 5, my daughter remains charmed by the simplest of things: getting up close to minibeasts (a British word for bugs!), climbing trees, jumping off of rocks or stumps, noticing when our resident hummingbirds zip across our yard toward the feeder, pointing out the hoard of crows that make their presence known in the evening - the list could go on.
And for this nature connection moment that she talked about later in the day, we had not planned a grand outing nor driven to a natural area far from home. This occurred on our way home from afternoon preschool, at our neighborhood city park. Knowing that dinner was preparing itself in the slow cooker (lentil, potato, and apple sausage soup, if you’re curious), we decided to stop at the park for a little while before getting home. Those worms that caught her attention - she found them in the skate park, and moved them into the grass nearby.
Nature can be found everywhere, from your backyard or front yard, around your neighborhood, at schools, and even outside doctor and dentist offices. As paleontologist and nature connection advocate Scott Sampson wrote in How to Raise a Wild Child, the best place for instilling nature connection in a child is “wherever you happen to be.” And that just might be a grocery store parking lot! On many occasions, a walk from the car to the grocery store entrance with my daughter has included observing pigeons, grackles, or other birds that hang out in such places, noticing unique clouds or rainbows after typical Oregon rain, or commenting on the color of leaves or lack thereof on trees between the rows of cars.
Being a parent makes for busy days, but that does not mean we can’t slow down just enough to help our children notice the environment around them, even in urban settings. It becomes all too easy to make our to-do list for each day and mark off each chore, errand, or phone call. “Nature time” can take a line on to-do lists, too. Or just occur spontaneously as part of one of the other items on the list. Either way, it can be a very rewarding task to have accomplished during the day.
That same afternoon that my daughter connected with earthworms, she spent a little time in a tree that’s perfect climbing for young children. From her new vantage point several feet above the ground, she looked out toward the descending sun, casting orange linings on the clouds. Our January day was ending, and in a window of 20 minutes we got in some play and exploration. We found nature where we were.
Guest author Michael D. Barton is a writer, historian (of science), and father of two in Portland, OR. He loves exploring in local nature or visiting national parks with his 11 year old son and 5 year old daughter. Michael also raises awareness about the importance of nature connection for kids by offering “Children at Nature Play” signs through natureplaysign.com and manages a related Facebook page, Children at Nature Play. He moderates a Facebook group all about connecting kids to nature in Portland, PDX Kids in Nature.
Bryna R. Campbell