Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Exploring What and When in Nature

Originally published 4/08/2011 at

If your exploration of nature is snuck into your schedule while walking your child to and from school, then you’ve both probably noticed the differences in your environment between morning and afternoon – the changes in lighting and the temperature are probably the most significant differences that you notice. It is just another small push to your awareness to notice the activity of birds, squirrels, and even insects at these two times.

On the other hand, if your children’s exploration of nature tends to be afterschool in the backyard, they likely notice the seasonal changes from month-to-month while, perhaps, missing the changes throughout the day. Try the following activity on a weekend when you don’t have a zillion things to do – or during a day when you and the kids on vacation.

Along with time, you’ll need a natural location that is close enough for you to visit three or four times throughout the day. In a pinch, this could be your backyard. These visits don’t have to take a lot of time; fifteen-or-twenty minutes tops. You will want to space out these visits to allow for some dramatic differences because of time of day.

For example, you may decide to go outside just before or just after sunrise, then at noon, followed by late afternoon, and then an hour or two after sunset. Again, lighting and temperature will be the first thing you’re likely to notice. Then focus on your senses in turn. What can you hear? What does the ground feel like when you touch it with your hands? How does the air smell? As you move throughout the day, you can compare these sensory experiences to the other times.

Give each child and adult a few minutes to explore followed by a couple of minutes to talk about what they noticed and to share their appreciation of ever-changing nature.

When I used to lead night walks for scouts, the energy level was often off-kilter. Being outside, in the woods, at night, would wind kids up. Eleven-year-old boys would refuse to turn off their flashlights even though they were less than half a mile from the nature center. Going outside much earlier or much later than normal may leave your kids acting wired because it is outside their norm. They may not be able to notice details in their environment because it will seem like so much is going on – both outside as well as in their minds.

You may need to explore these different times of day throughout the year; so, slow that dash from the car to the house to feel the night air on your cheeks and gaze at the moon. Notice not just the what of nature but also the when.

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