Ministry of Education, Guyana

Encouraging Kids to Enjoy Nature With All of Their Senses

For children five and six years old, running, yelling, leaping, tumbling, swinging and generally being boisterous and silly are what the outdoors are all about. Just being outside — especially when the space is unbounded with unexpected sights — can be a sensory overload. And for caregivers, it can be a challenge to slow the pace of their play when you want them to fully experience what nature has to offer.

How can you help your child tune in her senses to the natural wonders around her while giving her the freedom to engage in creative, unstructured outdoor play? Here are a few tips from the experts at Nature Cat.

Modeling Behavior
Plan an excursion to your backyard, a city park, the woods or some other accessible green space. Start by giving your child the opportunity for some open exploration while you make some observations of your own. While he explores, model some ways you use your senses to experience what is around you. When your child looks to see what you are doing, close your eyes. If he asks why you have closed your eyes, tell him you are using your ears to listen to what is going on around you. For example, perhaps when you closed your eyes you picked up on the sound of a bird chirping nearby. You can share that you hadn’t noticed that before when your eyes were open.

There are similar activities you might try with touching and smelling. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, or run your hand over tree bark. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. Share your delight so your child might try these experiences himself at some point.

Encourage your child by showing, rather than telling. Let the time he spends outside flow spontaneously.

I Spy, I Hear, I Smell, I Feel, I Taste
Playing an expanded version of the game I Spy allows for guided outdoor play without your having to direct the activity. You can do this while you are walking outdoors in an open space where nature is evident. Start the game off with a declaration that uses your sense of sight or sound, inviting your child to make a guess about what it is you see or hear. Then suggest your child do the same so you can try to guess. After a few rounds of this, introduce another sense, such as touch. You might pick up a stone and hide it in your hand. You might say I feel something smooth and cool in my hand. Or you might catch the scent of freshly mown grass and say I smell something sweet and green. Your child will begin to recognize ways that all our senses contribute to our outdoor experiences.

It isn’t important if the child doesn’t know what she smells or hears. But you can encourage her to describe it or imitate it, as these are both important learning skills.

Opportunities for taste will be limited and dependent on your levels of experience and comfort. Raindrops and snowflakes are appropriate. You may even challenge your child to ‘taste’ the wind!

Heighten The Senses
If your child is receptive, cover his eyes with a blindfold and continue the game. Here is where the sense of touch can shine. Bring natural items to your child to feel and have him guess what it is and, again, describe what it is like.

Depending on your child’s comfort level, you might go beyond expected items like tree bark, flowers and rocks. For example, you can place a ladybug on his hand, have him hold a worm or dip his hands in mud.

You may point out how many living things in nature can be very hard to see, because it is safer for them that way. But when we use our ears, they can point us toward hidden natural treasures. Our noses help, too. We often will smell things before we see them, such as a beautifully scented flower we’d like to find or a feisty skunk we’d prefer to avoid!

Nature Cat and his friends often use their senses to explore their natural world. For example, in The Great Grasshopper Race, Nature Cat and his friends must track down a grasshopper. But because grasshoppers are small and hard to see, they have to track him using only the sound he makes. Similarly, Have A Grape Day shows how Squeeks’ uses her sense of smell to determine that her favorite wild grapes are in trouble!

Let It Come Naturally
Just spending time outside will help your child hone her senses and rely on them to navigate through the world. Your role as a guide is to offer playful challenges, and to share your own wonder and joy at the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures of the natural world. A few of our favorite things? The earthy smells after a spring rain. The first frog of the season. The sweetness of a wild raspberry tasted while hiking. The sight of the sun breaking through clouds after a summer thunderstorm. The warmth of the sun on your skin on a cool day.

What are yours?


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