Back Away from the Encyclopedia!

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TGSG Note: When I speak to parents and educators about exploring nature, one of the most common statements I hear is, “But I don’t know enough about nature.” Or, I can’t answer all of their questions.”

To which I answer, “Yes, and…?”

So, for all of you who don’t think you know enough, I dedicate the following post.

OK, I know that nobody uses an encyclopedia anymore, but you get my drift. Exploring the natural world with children is such an amazing experience. Even if you are a nature buff, you will find something new when you look through their eyes.

Nature not your thing? No problem. There is absolutely no requirement that you have to have all, or even any of the answers.

Start with really accessible things, like squirrels, Robins, rabbits and neighborhood flowers. Relax. Discover together. Be playful.

If you are so inclined, take a field guide with you. Or, take notes and/or pictures and then look up an unidentified bird, flower, or tree later. Find a cool bird with a red head? It’s completely OK to call it the red-headed bird! Or, get really creative and call it Signore Scarlett or Bob. Why not? Bob the Bird — I’ve heard crazier things.

The point is, that you — nor any child — need to know it all to discover the wonders of nature. Simply step outside with an eye for wonder, an open heart, a spirit of adventure, and a mindset to enjoy spending time outdoors together. It can be that easy.

Once you get your feet wet, start visiting nature centers and going on guided walks and attending kids’ nature programs. You will be surprised what is out there! You’ll find programs on wetlands, animal tracking, stargazing,¬† nature crafts, and more. Naturalists have an amazing knowledge-base and are a valuable community resource.

That said, I believe in starting close to home first. Don’t go straight for the expert — but rather straight for your backyard or nearby greenspace. Open the door and head outside.

A few resources to help guide your exploration (again, this is NOT a requirement!):

  • eNature: My personal favorite online nature site. Field guides, articles, great regional information and interactive tools. Can’t say enough good things about this site.
  • Fandex Field Guide Series: Great, simple info for young kids with an engaging, colorful presentation. The Peterson First Series is also great. The older your child is, the more easily they will be able to handle a traditional field guide, like the Sibley or Audubon guides.
  • Take a Walk series: My friend Jane Kirkland writes a great series of books to help guide children’s nature walks. From urban wildlife, to birds, butterflies and more. Take a Walk with Jane — she’s a treat.
  • Your local library! I know — it sounds simple, but our libraries are such rich resources and are often under utilized. Does your child have a particular interest in bugs, snakes, or squirrels? There are great non-fiction books out there for kids.

So often, people feel like they need to have all the answers. This simply in not the case with kids and nature. Relax. Have fun, and just let the discoveries come as they may. Take advantage of teachable moments, but don’t force them. Let the child’s interests and enthusiasm be the guide, and make sure you feed your own as well.

Now, I am going out sans field guide to see what I can see. However, my sense of wonder and natural curiosity are fully intact. In my book, those are the two most important tools you will ever have in your pocket. Care to join me?

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

Creative Commons License photo credit: ocean yamaha

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