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Family Matters

EXPLORING NATURE TOGETHER

May 8th, 2017

BY CHRISTINA PICKLES

Physical activity, connecting with nature, and discovering your community are all reasons to get outside, explore and play. The benefits of outdoor nature play are indisputable yet we know children and families do not get outside as much as they did 20 years ago. We are working on changing that starting with Get Outside and Play Week May 27 – June 3. Take time to reset and get outside that week, learn more at getoutsideandplay.ca. Here are simple tips to jumpstart your family’s outdoor nature play: Remember that your child learns from you. The most powerful way you can teach your child is to model for them whatever behaviour you’d like to see. You’ll see that theme below… Eat. Before you go outside, get some food into their little tummies – and yours, for that matter. If they are hungry, or if they are cold, their learning goes downhill fast. When you get outdoors, head for something green. The less manicured the better– but thank goodness, small children need no national parks to have a good time. A vacant lot, a stream bank, a less tidy corner of a municipal park - all places with amazing discoveries to make! To explore nature with your child, you don’t need fancy gizmos or elaborate programs, keep it simple and follow your child! Let your child lead. The view from three feet off the ground is different from your view five feet up! Let them show you their world. All you need is to model excitement, enthusiasm, and curiosity. Don’t know any of the names of the plants or animals? No problem. Your child does not need that. What they need is for you to say things like: “Wow! Is that ever neat! Look at that cool bug/plant! I wonder…” Hands and knees – both of you. You are down on your hands and knees just like your child. Your nose is close to the things you are looking at. You are using your ears, your nose, and your sense of touch to explore and discover. Use your words - properly. Squeamish? Uncertain about nature? Nature is neither icky nor gross. Try to hide your squeamishness and let your child make up their own mind about nature. There might come a point in time when you feel that a little gear might help support further nature exploration. Here are a couple of props to use: Magnifying glass. This can be a $.25 magnifier no bigger than a toonie with a plastic handle, or something more elaborate. Teach your child to put their eye at the correct focal spot by showing them how YOU use your magnifying glass. This technology helps you see the spectacular compound eyes of an insect, or the details in the heart of a flower. String. Nature is vast and complex and sometimes overwhelming–help your child focus by putting the length of string into a loop, and create a mini-park, with the string as the park boundary. Within the boundary, you can create a fantastic interpretive hike for a miniature friend. You can use sticks, leaves and pinecones as interpretive stops. Every park you and your child make will be different. Rainbow chips. Another focusing technique is to raid the local paint store for a variety of paint chips; you can tell your imaginative child that these are the broken shards from a rainbow that fell from the sky. Challenge your oh-so-observant child to explore the pallet of colours found in your natural area, and match these colours to as many of the rainbow chips as possible. The Alberta Council for Environmental Education has been working collaboratively to advance environmental education and connect Albertans with nature for over 10 years. Join in on the first annual Get Outside and Play Week May 27- June 3. Learn more, share your experiences and be entered to win some great prizes at getoutsideandplay.ca. Christina Pickles is Program Manager for the Alberta Council for Environmental Education and lead for the Get Outside and Play Early Childhood Network in Alberta. We are working to make sure young children, their families and educators increase the amount of time they spend outside playing in nature!

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