Tamariki enjoy the natural world. They explore and collect, poke and prod. They find insects, spiders, caterpillars, worms and sandhoppers, and rocks, stones, shells, seaweed, driftwood, plants and leaves.
Sadly, it seems that in recent times children have less free access to the natural world due to changes in lifestyle. Sometimes adults’ fears of things like strong sunlight, insect-borne diseases, pollution or ‘stranger danger’ impacts on their children’s opportunities to get outdoors and explore.
What does contact with the natural world do for tamariki?
It helps them to learn about and to make sense of the world. It helps them to hone their observational skills, extend their critical thinking skills and help them feel connected to their environment.
Being outdoors in nature helps tamariki to:
- learn the correct names for animals, plants and other natural things
- observe and care for insects, plants and animals
- learn about food sources and that kai doesn’t ‘begin’ in the supermarket
- see how some food is purposefully planted in gardens and grown from seed, and some grows in the wild naturally from seeds spread by the wind, water and animals.
- learn that not all plants are edible and some are even poisonous
- think about how to keep safe near water, and that rivers, streams and moana need to be respected
- identify different trees, birds, fish and shellfish.
Adults can help by:
- encouraging tamariki to explore using their senses — looking, touching, smelling, tasting and listening
- asking them to talk about what they see
- helping them to collect and explore
- providing containers and places to keep things safely
- finding books in the library about the natural world
- helping them to use a magnifying glass to look more carefully.
Asking open-ended questions like:
- What can you see?
- What do you think is happening?
- What do you think it is?
- What do you think will happen next?
- What if we…?
- PBS Parents website: How caring for living things helps kids build empathy
- TED talk by Emma Marris: Nature is everywhere, we just need to learn to see it
Emma is a writer who focuses on environmental science, policy and culture.
- The Department of Conservation — Te Papa Atawhai: Exploring nature with children booklet
This booklet contains many ideas for activities with children in nature.
- Du Page Children’s Museum website: Exploring the natural world
An article by early learning specialist Alix Tonsgard.
- Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center website: Get out of the classroom and into nature: The importance of nature play in child development
This page has some wonderful images showing the pleasure tamariki get from being with nature.