Author: Maryann Zeledon, Program Coordinator at Denia Rec Center, pictured below
I love working with youth and have been a youth professional for ten years. Since my first job as a camp counselor, it has been a passion of mine, where I began mentoring youth and being a part of their journey to adulthood. My goal has been to create programs with caring staff and new experiences for youth. Some of my best experiences have been connecting children to the natural world. However, this isn't always easy due to transportation, living in an apartment, time, and more.
Growing up in San Jose, CA, having access to the natural world at times could be tricky. I lived in a neighborhood where it was unsafe to play outside unsupervised, and the closest park was not within walking distance. Somehow my parents brought nature to me through wildlife books, geodes science kits, and rock collections.
But why is connecting children to nature so important to their development?
Being outdoors is essential to children's physical and mental development. The impact of connecting children to nature goes deeper.
"A study by the American Institutes for Research found that kids who learn in outdoor classrooms improve their science scores by 27 percent. Not only is outdoor education critical for child development, researchers suggest it is also important for the future of the planet. We know that when children and adults connect with nature, they are more apt to become environmentally conscious citizens."
Inspiring children to become environmental stewards can even spark careers in environmental sciences, biology, chemistry, and more.
So, you may ask, how do we bring nature to children at home? Especially during these unprecedented times, with an added challenge of living without a lawn or backyard, that's not within walking distance of a park or an urban area without any green spaces.
Here are some ideas that I have used in my own programs and at home.
Create a nature corner. Using sticks, native plants, rocks, minerals, shells, and more, create a sensory bin or dedicated area to become your "nature corner." Start having conversations with your children that will promote critical thinking skills. With minerals and rocks, you can do a mini geology lesson. Along with your nature corner, have children start a nature journal (Maryann's pictured to the left) promoting observational skills.
Set up a nature-watching window. With your children, you can track constellations, cloud spotting, weather, bird-watching, and more. Keep handy: binoculars, a telescope, a digital cam
Be a digital wildlife viewer. The California Academy of Sciences has animal webcams for stingrays, coral reefs, Farallon Islands (30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, the rugged Farallon Islands are almost impossible to access), and a penguin colony. The Cornell Lab Bird Cam connects people to birds of the world.
Read a book with your child that will inspire an outdoor adventure. Reading the Secret garden inspired me to garden and paint landscapes. These books will most likely inspire children to head outdoors. Such books as Island of the Blue Dolphins, Stellaluna, Call of the Wild, and Going on a Bear Hunt.
I hope these ideas inspire you to create special areas of your home devoted to celebrating and learning more about the natural world with your family.
Denton Parks and Rec is also excited to offer classes that give children the opportunity to connect with nature. Below are some of the programs we currently have!
Oct. 14 | North Lakes Park Pavilion
Ages 3-5 at 10-11 a.m.
Ages 5-7 at 1-2 p.m.
Children are introduced to the outside world that builds on their wonder. This is an award-winning curriculum. Facilitators trained by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Oct. 6-27 | ages 7-14
Using repurposed materials to create new crafts.