Our tamariki are on a quest to learn about their world and make sense of it. These are the tasks of their early years, and nature is the ultimate setting in which to do so. Unhurried, unstructured time outdoors lets our tamariki learn about the world they live in by actually living in it. Their first-hand experiences are what lead to first-class knowledge, the kind that makes an impression and leaves them hungry for more. Our active learners need more than simply hearing information, or seeing it on a screen. Learning is a full body, sensory experience.
In our technological age, our tamariki can have nature ‘knowledge’ at their fingertips – watching animal documentaries, weather events, and even time lapses of life cycles with the tap of a screen. It is incredible what is on offer, but we have to realise that for our young ones, it is more impactful for them to be involved in nature. They want nature at their actual finger tips, as in their fingers in the mud, picking flowers, or in a trickle of water. They want to do more than just watch – they want to play, explore, experiment, and get dirty. They want to know nature by being in it, taking the lead, and soaking up the learning that comes from their own adventures.
Touch the world and grow
Screens and books can, of course, give our tamariki additional information, or exposure to something they won’t see close up. And if we see ‘additional’ as the keyword here, we are on the right path – offering real nature as their primary source of information, and other two-dimensional forms as the supplementary sources. The concrete, ‘own hands’ experiences come first and most often, are laying a wonderful foundation of genuine knowledge. A screen can tell our tamariki that rocks can be heavy, but it’s the lived experience of trying to transport them with their own little hands that makes an impression. They may hear that flowers have a ‘scent’, but nothing can replace inhaling the scent themselves. That’s real knowing. A book can describe mud as squelchy but that can’t just be learning for the ears alone. The squelchiness of mud is something for the ten toes to discover!
It is their own experiences in nature that help our tamariki make sense of the world around them. They gain more than facts; they also gain feelings; they fill up more than their mind; they also fill their sensory bank. And when this is a regular part of their daily lives and their time with loved ones, they create more than just meaning – they also create memories.
Photography courtesy of Mike MacKinven.