Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Nature: The Original Classroom

natures-journeyNature has a wonderful basic quality that has so many opportunities for learning. I believe that many of the things that we learn can be explored in nature. We learn nurturing and responsibility as we care for our parks, yards, feed birds, and plant gardens and flowers. We learn in the rain, in the water as we jump in puddles. We learn about feeling when we fall or when we have to come inside.

Nature is so valuable. The earth provides an amazing opportunity for learning and the potential from the excitement from being outdoors is electric. We see the value of nature as a way to create calm in our emotions. We spend a lot of time outside simply experimenting with the environment and investigating everything. We learn in the backyard, we learn at the park, we learn while on a hike, we learn everywhere.

The outdoors has provided a fantastic classroom for me and my children. We generally take at least one hike every week at a local park or in our neighborhood. Our son walks during most of the journey and explores everywhere. Exploring and being prepared for the journey is very important. I usually have a small bag with snacks, water, and wipes. We occasionally get off the trail and really find some interesting things. Recently we went on a hike a day after a rain and the creek trail was so muddy and full of puddles. I was prepared with clean clothes and towels in the car. What a wonderful opportunity to explore. He stomped through every puddle large and small as we were on our walk. Then it happened. His feet got wet enough that he didn’t want to walk any more. I had a few choices but I chose to put him up on my shoulders as we finished our hike. It was cold and messy but messy is fun.

About a week later we were on the same trail and it was rather dry but we found a wet space for him to learn and play with the water. I was interested in what would happen if he got muddy again. He was slow at first, but gradually got more and more wet. I got down in the mud near him and painted my face with a little mud. The best part was when he looked up at me and smiled and was inquisitive whether he could have some mud paint too. He lifted his face up with excitement and let me share some art on his face. We walked down the trail where my wife and daughter were waiting and my wife was surprised with our choice of organic facial material but it was such a wonderful memory. Yes, it will get hot or cold, rain or snow, and there will be scrapes, and the bugs will bite, but it is all worth the journey of learning outdoors.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

We often avoid the outdoors in winter, nestled by the fire with our hot cocoa and a good book. But think about what we’re missing! Outdoor play in the winter, when dressed warmly and appropriately, can be an adventure.

Don’t just build a snowman. See how creative your family can be! Try building a fort or an entire snowman family. Go sledding down the backyard hill. Or, just go for a walk to glimpse the beauty of icicles hanging in the tree branches. No snow?  Explore the different types of trees, and how differently they look in the winter. Go cloud gazing, pointing out the different shapes. Collect pine cones and make a bird feeder.  What kinds of animals do you see playing in the cold?

We all need to get outside to burn energy and use our muscles, and fresh air is a must all times of year! Studies have shown that contrary to the common belief that exposure to cold air causes us to “catch a cold,” it’s more likely that spending long periods of time in small, poorly ventilated areas is the culprit. In fresh, outdoor air, the chance for spreading infection is reduced.

Not only is outdoor time a good practice for families, it’s also good for children in child care situations. While adults that have to bundle up twelve preschoolers to take them outside for playtime may be grumbling as they look for hats and mittens, 4C early childhood specialists agree that the benefits are worth it!

It is up to the child care provider to monitor the weather conditions and make sure our children are safe but there are precautions that can be taken. Some states have even adopted a green, yellow or red guideline system for teachers to use when determining if it’s too cold for kids to play outside. I encourage you to ask how much time your children are spending outside in their child care programs!

So dress appropriately, hydrate yourself and your child and get out there and have some fun!

– Debbie

Photo courtesy of Belzie.