“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives”
This famous quote from nature’s historian Thomas Berry truly encapsulates just how vital experiences in nature are for children. Early childhood is a crucial period for brain development – it is when our brains plasticity is at it’s greatest! Young children are more likely to experience profound benefits in their development of biophilia (affinity with nature and love for the Earth) during this crucial time. As adults, it is up to us to give children as many opportunities as possible to explore and play in nature, experience in nature…
So how can adults help to foster children’s connection with nature? What works? What role can adults take?
By embracing children’s natural curiosity, their unique way of knowing and their exploration and discovery of the natural world we can all enjoy and share a genuine sense of wonder, excitement and adventure.
One way of promoting children’s sense of wonder, adventure and connection is through nature foraging. Undertaking foraging walks with children is an activity that Erin from the Nature Play Academy is passionate about. The walks include using all five senses in nature; helping to sharpen observation and listening skills and building confidence. Where Erin has personally observed many benefits including:
1. Increases in children’s vocabulary
2. Knowledge of the seasons and food availability
3. Cultural knowledge – for the area of Nature Play Academy, this being the traditions of the Gumbayniggirr People
4. Awareness of ecosystems and interdependence of living things
5. Improved observation skills
6. Increases in level of confidence, dispositions and decision making abilities.
Foraging gives children a purpose as well as fine tuning their survival skills!
Native Sarsaparilla – lolly leaves!
Erin’s Bush OOSH and Explorer’s Club often enjoy their foraging walks where many of the children are now becoming experts at spotting the highly sought after pink leaves! The pink leaves can be eaten straight off the vine and have a sweet aniseed flavour. They call them lolly leaves!
Native Sarsaparilla: Pink leaves can be eaten straight off the vine
When foraging, Erin believes that it is always important to pay respect, acknowledge and thank the Gumbayniggirr People of the NSW North Coast for sharing their knowledge of these bush foods. The Arrawarra Sharing Culture fact sheets have been a great source of local knowledge and culture for Erin at the Nature Play Academy.
Remember the Risks
Like any activity, foraging comes with risks and it is important to develop healthy habits in children early – before every forage mission it is important go over the first rule of bush food – “never eat anything you’re not sure about!” Children are reminded that they can only eat plants identified (by a knowing adult) as safe and ripe.
Get in touch with your local National Parks and wildlife team to go on a tour of your local area before you start your foraging journey, this will improve your skills and confidence in identifying plants. Many Indigenous communities have local fact sheets and cultural walks on native bush foods. With the combined experience and references your foraging will yield lots of culinary delights!
Foraging a connection to nature is exactly what occurs when you provide regular opportunities for children to explore and experience nature in a playful and experimental fashion. A love of nature is formed when we allow children to lead the experiences they have in nature – step back – give them space to be themselves and explore. Show them nature’s wonders with enthusiasm and wonder yourself and watch the magic happen!
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child find a ripe raspberry or sarsaparilla leaf and “squeal” in delight to then rush and show others, sharing nature’s gifts with their friends!
This is an experience that makes Erin’s day – every time!!
Nature Play Academy is a result of Erin Chapman’s passion to share vital experiences with nature to as many children as possible, as often as possible!! Erin is a mother of three, an experienced early childhood teacher, an advocate for children and a passionate nature playworker! Her many years of experience and knowledge on child development, play, curriculum design and nature connection inspires her practice and approach to childhood learning and teaching. Nature Play Academy offers a range facilitated nature play experiences for children, families and educators.