Hidden Nature of the City


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Making direct experiences with nature an integral part of daily life for children in rural areas is relatively simple; however, it can feel difficult in a city environment with its endless acres of concrete. But it doesn’t have to be, because nature, with dogged determination, will find a place for itself in any environment. Birds, squirrels, and chipmunks flit around busily, going about their daily business. Insects scurry along the edge of the sidewalk and weeds grow through the cracks. Spiders make webs between the house foundation and stairs. Weed flowers bloom, fade, and make seed while the tree leaves bud, green out, and fall. It is there, continuous and cyclical - and if we take conscious notice of it with children, we can make experiences with nature as much an integral part of city lives as it is for rural children.

Nature study is as important as other more traditional aspects of the children’s curriculum and is, in fact, an ideal part of STEM curriculum. It can be worked into daily outdoor routines, such as walking to pick up older children from school or going to the playground. Drop some cracker crumbs or a bit of fruit next to the steps as you leave; when you return, see if it has been eaten. Who ate it? Did it attract ants? Can you follow them back to their colony and observe how they carry their load? Note the position of the sun when you leave; has it changed when you get back? Set up a bird feeder and observe it each day as you all pass by. You could leave a little earlier than normal to allow for extra time to stop and observe - to see, smell, touch, collect, discuss, and to just wonder. Use outside time for more than just running around and playing on the equipment. Set aside some time for nature.

Making time to “stop and smell the roses” and to make daily observations of nature is terrific for children and adds to their base of nature knowledge. But to enable children to forge their strongest bonds with nature and achieve its greatest benefits, children need unstructured opportunities to interact with nature. With so many buildings, cars and people - where in the city can we find a good place for children to freely interact with nature? Each of the Capital District cities does have a least one major park and some small neighborhood parks. City parks are often landscaped for beauty, not for free exploration by children. Rules may prohibit walking off pathways, picking flowers or climbing and you will obey these rules; however, children cannot have direct experiences with nature by merely observing it behind velvet ropes or glass windows, as in a museum. They need to get down and dirty. Head for the edges of the parks, to the freer, less manicured spaces that allow for more opportunities for children to peek under rocks, explore puddles, catch insects, and have pretend adventures using found natural objects as props.

Your own street may have a neglected vacant lot that, after ensuring its safety, could make an ideal natural environment play space where children could freely explore: they might chase butterflies, climb boulders, pick flowers, make little rock caves, dig holes or build forts from dead branches. Bring a few supplemental supplies, such as magnifiers, collection containers, and nature identification guides.

Diligently follow all OCFS regulations regarding health, safety, and competent supervision, but try not to be unnecessarily cautious. Remember your own childhood and how much richer your play and more deeply focused your explorations became when you did not feel adults were hovering over you. Join in their play and adventures when needed or invited, and have fun yourself. You will all go back to your house peacefully refreshed and filled with the deep internal contentment that is one of the wonderful benefits that spending time in nature provides for us all.

Written by Mary Miranda, Legally Exempt Educator

Article from Home & Classroom | Summer 2019 | Issue 1

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