Childhood is such a gift. Those of us with children have been given a second chance to experience that magic and wonder of seeing life through the eyes of a child. Things that we have come to take for granted, come alive. Take for example the wildlife on your property or in your neighborhood. Taking the time to sit quietly or to wander daily around the back yard with your little one can become a life altering experience.
In our garden there is pair of cardinals, numerous chickadees, flocks of finches and sparrows, a blue jay or two, four or five squirrels, and a large toad. The little hole between the tree and brick path is a chipmunk’s burrow. The closer you look, the more you will see: the spider web next to the pond, the aphids sucking the life out of the honeysuckle, and the ladybugs munching on aphids!
The birds have particular perching spots that they return to time and again: the fence post, the bush next to the parking lot, the wisteria, the tree at the back of the property… They seek food, squabble among themselves, and cooperate!
Once we watched two sparrows collecting nesting material while a third kept watch for danger from the telephone wire; after a time, the sentinel flew down to assist in gathering while the other took a turn at sentry.
Different types of birds have different calls for different situations. We usually hear a bird before we see it and learning to recognize its song before we locate the bird is good practice for learning to read (and distinguishing between similar sounds helps to prepare a child in learning to discern between consonants when it comes to phonics). Children who are afraid of bugs (often reflecting their parent’s response to various situations) overcome their anxiety by studying insect behavior: watching a bee gather pollen; a spider weave her web; a colony of ants collect bits of cracker dropped near the hedge. Likewise, children whose parents enthusiastically go to a window or the porch during a thunderstorm to watch the clouds, lightening, and rain, locating the direction of the storm, calculating the distance, are not afraid of thunder. Count the different kinds of plants, insects, birds in your yard. Lay in the grass and look up into a tree, watch the clouds, gaze at the stars.
Creating an intimacy with the natural world makes it impossible not to think about how the way we live affects this planet and all of life. The teachable moments become innumerable as we see a blue jay pecking at a cigarette butt, a cat eating a bird, a plastic bag blowing against the fence. Asking your child questions will help them give their logic and reasoning centers a workout (e.g., “what would happen if an animal got stuck in that bag?”) We start giving thought to the weed killer we consider putting on the lawn, or the bug spray we are tempted to use on those horrible aphids (One child observes, “but if that poisons the bugs, won’t it poison the other animals, and if we kill all the bugs, what will the birds and toads eat?”).
Spending time in nature is so good on so many levels, particularly if you feel you don’t have time for that. Have you noticed that when you are most pressed for time, the children become much more demanding? I have always found that if I give them my undivided attention for a time, they will keep themselves occupied for more than enough time to compensate.
Being in nature has a way of calming everyone down.. Take the time this fall to build warm memories with your child, the kind that sustain through the rough times, the kind that your child will look back on with warm nostalgia.
As many of us know already, all too soon, the children grow in their struggle for independence, leaving us to pray that we have laid the ground work for him or her to lead a thoughtful, intentional and productive life. – RDW 7-21-09