This past fall, my daughter, son-in-law, May and Eloise went on a camping trip to New Hampshire. As my daughter recounted their experiences, an image of myself as a young child, walking through the woods of upstate New York with my dad, came to mind. I vividly recalled those special moments when I had my dad all to myself, walking hand in hand, eating blueberries off bushes, creeping up to view unsuspecting deer, and picking wildflowers to bring back to my mother. As the youngest of six children, I relished time alone with my father, discovering and learning about nature’s bounty. Now, decades after his death, our times shared remain among my favorite memories.
In today’s culture, where so many programmed activities are a part of children’s lives, there seems to be less and less time to enjoy the spontaneity of being a child; hiking through the woods, roads, and/or parks that surround our lives, and discovering the gifts that nature offers. Why do bees buzz around flowers? Why do leaves turn to such magnificent colors in the fall and drop different kinds of seeds onto the ground? What do squirrels do with those acorns they gather? How many sounds can you hear when you pause to listen, really listen? Where do ferns hide their seeds? Expanding and developing children’s natural curiosity is the free gift nature has to offer.
Through Instagram, I was able to share in the joy that my grandchildren and their family friends experienced. Photos of children jumping into a lake, hands reaching out for the rarely-offered-at-home “junk food,” cooking over an open fire, and children standing in front of a pond with their arms wrapped around each other, smiling broadly at the camera, enabled me to experience a bit of their outings with a touch of a finger onto my cell phone..
One image in particular said all that words could hope to convey. It was a photo of May’s eyes riveted upon a plastic recyclable cup with holes containing leaves and an insect. I could only imagine what she was thinking as she observed its movements. Nancy, my daughter, wrote the caption, “Nature’s YouTube.” As I read the caption, I thought that’s one way in which Mother Nature meets modern technology. In science, observations, and experimentation lead to conclusions. Here sat May, applying the scientific method naturally, no textbooks or pre-programmed lessons.
As a teacher, I always believed that a child’s natural curiosity needs to be fed with constant opportunities for development. While after-school sports and planned activities are valuable, taking time to just be a kid, exploring the world around you and developing an understanding of the important relationship that exists between nature and humanity is invaluable for keeping the fires of curiosity burning.