Nature and discovery

seaside

Summer scavenging

I have been enjoying a beautiful book, I Love Forest School by Martin Pace, owner and director of Reflections Nursery. It's full of pictures and detailed observations of children's explorations at Forest School and (a new idea to me) Beach School.

If your children don't have those opportunities, can you bring Forest School to them? Summer offers chances to collect the natural materials, be they seashells or pine cones, that enhance construction, craft or role play areas. Children and staff can help gather these resources, which then provide a springboard for discussion about where they were found, what kind of tree the pine cone grew on, or what kind of animal lived in the shell.

Even without trips to the woods, your setting can develop what Martin Pace calls 'lively connections' between indoors and out.

Hear more from Martin Pace and link to his book here.

summer walk

Encouraging children's innate sense of curiosity

Olivia is fascinated by nature. At six months, she was watching leaves in the wind. At two, our walks came to a standstill every time she spotted an ant. At four, she has questions about everything we see. (Yesterday it was, "Why do worms like puddles?")

A child's innate curiosity is the basis for life-long learning. We can encourage it best by sharing their questions and fascination rather than knowing all the answers.

In the words of biologist Rachel Carson: "If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

P.S. For a thought-provoking summer read and some good ideas, have a look at Richard Louv's book Last Child in The Woods. Read about it here, available from Amazon UK

crates

Enjoying children's wacky logic

The sky promised rain when I visited a nursery. A group of three-year-olds had been playing in the sandpit, and they too noticed the darkening clouds. In response they set out all their pails and pots to catch the raindrops.

Two children stacked several crates, then placed their buckets on the stack. I wondered about this and asked them why. They stared at me and then explained (with a patience reserved for slow-witted adults) that the closer you get to the clouds, the more rain you'll catch. Of course!

Wild things

Wild things lurking

Recently I met a child hurrying home, eyes shining, clutching a newly created stick creature. It swept me back to my own childhood memories of happy, sun-dappled hours in the woods creating menageries of wild beasts from nature’s odd and ends.

After our teacher showed us how to make stick animals, my friends and I became hunters discovering creatures everywhere. Our teacher trimmed our sticks and made holes for us to poke in ears and antlers. We drew scary eyes with a felt tip.

Sticks, fir cones and acorns along with some imagination can give creativity free rein. Such play gives children great satisfaction and confidence as they don’t have to worry about a ‘correct’ method or outcome. Search any bit of woods or even a bush in the garden and see what wild things you find lurking there!

Woodchips

Wood chips: an under-appreciated resource

Wood chips are a great versatile resource. You can spread them over a corner of your garden for children to experience a different tactile surface for walking and jumping. You can make an outdoor sensory area of wood chips bordered by logs, with heaps of seashells and pieces of old brick or rocks, where children can pursue their imagination in peace.

If your chip pile is deep, you will see total large-motor involvement and role play. Some children will be digging and transporting, others will be cooking and stirring... They will happily return to this activity day after day, and it will only deepen and intensify over time. Meanwhile, there's that tangy scent and connection with nature. 

Best of all you shouldn't have to buy them. If you don't have a tree-surgeon friend, you can always contact the road-works people. What a fabulous resource for free!

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