Fall is a time of change – the leaves change to a variety of colors, we anticipate the change in the weather and temperature, sunsets come early and sunrise later, we watch the last of the flowers in the garden fade away. We change our clocks, our meal choices and our wardrobe...time for all those sweaters and fleece to come back out of the closet where they have been (although in Seattle it may have only been for a few weeks!) While we look forward to change we may long for time to stay the same. I enjoy the crisp, colorful days of fall, but long for the lazy, sunny days of summer while looking forward to cold, snowy days by a fire in the winter. I want it to stay the same yet remember the fun of the past and look forward to the new of the future. This is true of parenting. I loved when my sons were young. I was always happy with the age they were. We enjoyed all the “seasons” as they grew. All were wonderful and different and challenging. The joy of the “firsts” -- first smile, first words, first steps changed to first lost tooth, first sleep over, first summer camp. Then it was time for learning to drive, college applications and their first time living away from home. We have enjoyed the time with our sons and being a part of the changes as they have grown from babies to adults. We cannot turn back the hands of time. What we can do is to look back at the memories as we look forward to the new experiences to come.
This month I would like to write about my passion for the outdoors. It is so important to be outside with your children. I have to be outside. I have always been an outside kind of person. I draw so much energy from nature and being able to be outdoors. When our sons were little we did as much as we could outside. Hiking, exploring, walks in the neighborhood, visiting parks, camping and looking for worms after a rain were just some of the activities we enjoyed. This fall we will have opportunities to spend time outside in our play area to give the children different ways to exercise their bodies while being in a natural environment. They need to experience the wonder of the trees movement when it is windy, the smell of the salt air, the feel of mist on their skin. While we are at preschool these are all things they can experience in the little window of nature while we are at Outdoor Play. What do they learn while they are outside? All of their 5 senses are used while in nature. They can hear the birds, feel the wind, watch the clouds, taste a fresh picked vegetable or fruit and smell a flower. They can watch a spider spin a web, a bird soar in the air and a squirrel run up a tree. While they dig in the dirt (or sandbox) they are learning about physics and math, when they pet an animal they are learning how to interact in a kind and gentle manner, when they watch the world around them they are discovering that this is a big world and they are a part of it.
It is so important for children to be given opportunities to explore their world. Independently! Give them time to roam about, by themselves, and explore. No, I am not saying just let them run about in an unsafe environment where they could be injured but do give them opportunities to explore their world and to be independent. Give them an opportunity to explore the backyard while you watch from a distance. Let them interact with nature by climbing, sitting, running and exploring their yard (or safe outdoor area) on their own. It is just as important to be there to explain the world around them as it is for them to have a chance to experience the world of nature on their own – to develop critical thinking skills (what to believe, what to do), curiosity (what is this ...), imagination (what can I do with this) , problem solving skills (how do I climb up this rock) , and a joy of learning (developing a love of learning for learning not for a grade or the approval of others). One way to do this is to give them an area to dig. This could be in a sandbox, at the beach, in a pile of dirt or a space in the garden. Let them use natural materials, like sticks and rocks, to build with. Our sons had a huge (Curt does not do anything little) sandbox to play in. They would spend hours building roads for their vehicles, homes for their animals and dinosaurs, digging for buried treasures. I would sit nearby and read or we would build together depending on how they wanted to play that day. It was a delightful way to spend a sunny afternoon.
When we treat children's play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that's to be found in the creative spirit. It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.
As our sons grew their “sandbox world” changed to scaling the boulder in the Cougar Rock Campground at Mt Rainier National Park, exploring my Grandfather’s farm in Ohio, Ultimate Frisbee games at Discovery Park and hikes in the North Cascades with their friends. Nick has climbed 4 of the highest mountain peaks in Washington. He has summited Mt Rainier, Mt Baker, Glacier Peak and Mt Olympus. The year he was summited Mt Olympus Joel and Danielle climbed Half Dome in Yosemite. Greta loves the outdoors as much as Nick. We are in the process of planning some adventures next summer with all of them. I would like to think that part of Joel and Nick’s love to explore the outdoors, and the world around, was inspired by the worlds they created in their backyard sandbox.
A FUN FALL NATURE ACTIVITY
Take a COLOR WALK – Learn about the colorful diversity of nature and the usefulness of camouflage.
Gather squares of different colored paper – or let your child pick out some paint-chip cards at the store – and go on walk around the neighborhood, your backyard, or the park.
Collect things that match your color cards. Green – grass, Yellow-dandelions, Red- leaves, Brown-pinecone, etc. ( you can point out that at this time of the year all the colors that the leaves are) You can collect them in a plastic baggie or gather them up and place them on the sheets of colored paper.
Talk about the colors and size of the items you collect.
Talk about what colors are easy to find, what color is your favorite, where do find colors, how many colors are in the sky.
See if you can name something from each color.
Take some time to allow your children to explore the world around them and plant a seed of curiosity that will grow with them.