Let The Child Lead
June is here! As our hours of daylight grow longer we are instinctively drawn towards the outdoors. Summertime brings forth an array of activities we’ve been dreaming of all winter long. And while it can be tempting to guide your child through nature, planning adventures with specific times and destinations in mind, there is much value in allowing your child to take the lead.
Through our experience working in the classroom with young children, we know how vital it is to learn when not to intervene, not interrupt, and not provide direct instruction. We have discovered that young children are instinctively sensitive towards order and organization, towards sensory input, towards movement and towards fine detail. Our indoor classrooms at MIS are extensively and carefully prepared in order to meet these needs. However, nature effortlessly prepares an environment in which a young learner can engage and explore in the process of discovery.
When exploring nature with your child, it is important to allow them to take the lead.
Admittedly, it is difficult to hold back from instruction, from informing and from talking in general. We love our children so much that we cannot refrain from sharing our own knowledge with them. But if learning is to be truly meaningful for a little one, it should stem from spontaneous interest.
While exploring nature, allow your child to walk slightly ahead of you and pay close attention to what they are drawn to. They may not appreciate the waterfall that you’ve reached at the end of your hike or they may not notice the mayfly hatch. They might instead notice a tiny yellow flower that you would have otherwise overlooked. They might be drawn to the gentle song of a bird or they might find a rock that resembles in shape another familiar object. Follow the child in terms of focus and show interest in their discoveries. Your trip to the stream may become instead a time examining the weeds along the path.
Your proposed hike might not get far beyond the trailhead. However, the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning is a gift that fosters interest and promotes further investigation. Your child will cultivate a genuine love of nature and you will be amazed by the natural tendencies of your child.
Ideas for child-led nature discovery: Camping is one of the easiest ways to allow your children endless playtime in the outdoors. Due to the relaxing nature of camping, the disconnection from the “real world” and technology, and the mindset that nothing needs to be done, you can leisurely observe your child in a natural environment.
Want to do something closer to home? Take your child to a part of your yard or a nature trail that does not have toys or other unnatural distractions (i.e. the tree growing in your front lawn, a part of your property that is utilized for gardening or animals, or a walking path closer to town). Stand back and take their lead. See what textures, colors, and sounds they are naturally drawn to without telling them what to look for.
Most importantly, enjoy the time you spend outside with your child. Nature is one of our greatest teachers!