Nature play expert, and AAEE member, Sam Crosby has a wealth of knowledge on how to encourage curiosity, storytelling, and physicality in your kids (and yourself!).
Here are her 6 top tips for parents and caregivers who want to raise nature-connected kids.
1. Be a hummingbird, not a helicopter
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, talks about how caregivers’ interactions with their children outside should be like a hummingbird.
To do this, leave some physical distance between yourself and your children to give them the opportunity to create their own play, engage their imaginations and to take risks, allowing for a richer experience without adult intervention or hovering.
2. Keep a (bird's eye) out
As a hummingbird parent it is still important to avoid spending too much time checking your phone, as it is through careful observation that you will know when to fly in. This might be when children have come up against a difficulty that they can’t overcome, are in imminent danger, or may need a little bit of inspiration to want to keep playing. Once they are back on track it is time to fly out.
If you are having a fun time and enjoying all aspects of the great outdoors (including the range of weather and creepy crawlies) then it becomes infectious. If we love the rain, then our children will love the rain, if we show amazement in our wildlife so will our kids. As soon as we take a negative position this can be like a full stop at the end of a sentence, it can end the enquiry and the joy.
Think about yourself as a mirror for your family, because actions and words have a big influence on how our children engage. If we as adults can show that we can get out of our own comfort zone then our children will be more resilient in the ways of the world.
4. Inspire a sense of awe and wonder
We all know that our kids look up to the adults in their lives. This gives us a great opportunity to engage our children with the natural world through carefully tuned actions and words.
Ways to encourage this include asking great questions, (rather than giving all of the answers) and displaying interest in what your children are showing you. Be curious about the natural world around you – join your children in studying your backyard birds and their bird song, talk about the seasonal ecological changes in your local area, identify and name plant species, and make nature a part of your everyday conversation.
Show an interest with carefully guided questions, and your children’s interest and curiosity will follow.
People of all ages make sense of their world through not only their lived experiences but also through reflecting on those lived experiences. This is where keeping an open mind and listening to children’s stories of their nature play is important.
Having their stories listened to helps children deepen their nature experience. Knowing that their interests and thoughts are valued will keep them wanting to come back for more and gives you both more to share around the dinner table now and into their older years.
6. Instruct, don't destruct
How many times a day do you find yourself saying “be careful”? This tip may sound easy, but for many parents it is difficult to watch their children take risks without saying this classic phrase.
In nature play education we use a vocabulary of instruction rather than fear to take the anxiety out of challenging situations. Statements such as “be careful”, “watch out”, and “don’t fall” are usually unhelpful and can create a greater risk. Instead, break physical activity down into chunks of simple instruction, describe exactly what action the children need to take next, so that they can understand and learn exactly what it is they need to do with their bodies.
Sam Crosby is a respected trailblazer in the nature play sector, developing new philosophies and creating innovative programs that enable more children to connect with nature, the bush and their unique Australian heritage.
This article and images originally appeared as a two part series. It has been reproduced with permission by Centennial Parklands.