Friday, August 1, 2014
With Spring upon us, the natural world is bursting with activity and growth. Children are beginning to play more outside and so the importance of the outdoors to the child’s development becomes more prominent. Playing outdoors provides opportunities for physical development in the form of exercise, fresh air and exposure to sunlight with many benefits. The changing seasons also provide us with many opportunities for intellectual growth through the study of nature. We can observe the patterns and cycles of the plants and animals around us. For example, in the Spring, children can observe birds nesting, flowers blooming and leaves emerging. Insects and other animals become more active after the dormant time of winter. This gives us many opportunities to expand their vocabulary related to the world around us. Children can learn the names of flowers, birds, trees and insects. Gardening activities naturally lead to discussions about nutrition, composting, and preparing the soil. Direct experiences feed a curious mind and stimulate a thirst for more knowledge and lay a foundation on which we can draw upon later.
Not only do experiences in nature enrich the physical body and mind, it nourishes the emotions and spirit as well. Greenery and plants directly affect calmness and a sense of peace. The cycles of nature and study of the Earth foster a sense of connection among all living organisms. Being in nature connects us to ourselves and can bring us into a state of harmony. These first hand experiences foster a “Sense of Wonder,” as Rachael Carson so eloquently expressed:
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
So as parents, how do we incorporate the outdoors and nature into our daily life? Visiting parks and natural spaces as a family is one great way to do this. Feeding birds or caring for a garden is a way to incorporate nature into our daily life. Taking time to note the change in seasons and the weather each day connects to the yearly cycles of the Earth. Sitting quietly for a time each day to observe the natural world, even in our own neighborhood is a wonderful calming activity. There is no right or wrong way. It is more about an attitude of openness to nature - to see what we can learn and observe, than it is about specific activities. One can be in the forest and be too preoccupied with daily life to even see the snail on a leaf in front of us. Taking the time to watch that tiny snail slowly crawl up a leaf can be a meditative practice and connect us deeply to the wonder of life.
Marla Nargundkar, AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Doraville/Atlanta
We live in a society in hyperdrive. We constantly move from one scheduled activity to another – work, school, music lessons, sports practice, meetings, etc. Many children never get the chance to experience much free time. But this free time is essential for well-being and growth. Children need unstructured time to play, daydream, wander (in a safe environment, of course!), ponder or reflect. And if this can occur outside in nature, all the better! And yes, children need to experience BOREDOM. Boredom leads one to turn inward for direction and to seek out one’s own interests. Even if your children come to you for entertainment, firmly resist the urge to always rescue them. As a parent you can give them some ideas or hints but they must be the ones to instigate their own activity. This leads to opportunities to develop creativity and problem solving. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is the guiding force.
Boredom can be an important part of the cycle of rest and growth that everyone needs. Growth is not linear. It happens in spurts and phases. During the “inactive” time it is tempting to think that nothing is happening. But this is far from the truth. Energies and forces are accumulating within, paving the way for renewal and growth. This is true for both the body and the mind. And just as we need sleep and rest, we need downtime to maintain our levels of stress at a healthy level. Boredom helps us to develop skills we need through life. Boredom, and thus the urge to relieve it, leads us to become more self-reliant and independent. It pushes us to try out new things, to create, to explore.
So work to value the free time that it takes to potentially experience boredom. Avoid overscheduling each day. Purposefully leave time slots blank. Resist criticizing children (or adults) when they appear to be doing nothing. Turn off the TV and computer and be open to the gifts of boredom.
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Ellen Parr
Marla Nargundkar is an AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, GA