Each time I go into the woods - or ride my bicycle on the parkway trail near my home - I see something that captures my attention. On this specific day, I stopped to marvel at the new home for a fairy. For the family who found this fairy her new home, they made the connection between imagination, play and going into the woods. It is exciting to see parent's as a role model to make this happen.
Telling an Origin Story
When telling children an oral story, I engage their imagination because I have no book to give them clues about how things look. I paint those pictures through my words and the kids create their own pictures in their head.
Telling the creation story of "The Elephant's Child," by Rudyard Kipling, I don't need to ask, what will happen next? As they listen to the elephant's encounters with other animals, they predict what will come next on their own. They hold their breath, and sit in fear and anticipation waiting to find out if the crocodile will grab the elephant's nose. And, of course, the crocodile does bite down on the elephant's nose. The children soon find out that is only the middle of the story, far from an expected end for the elephant.
Meet a Tree
When we go outside to Meet a Tree, children enjoy drawing. Each student approaches their drawing a little differently. Some draw their tree with birds and other creatures that were not really there. They imagined possibilities. I ask questions that prompted them to think, "Is this tree healthy?" "How do you know?" "Why do trees have leaves?" "Do all trees have leaves?" "How does a tree get a drink?"
As an informal educator, I consider the level of individual student engagement, imagination, and excitement an excellent indicator of what learning is staying with them. Students were recalling prior knowledge, making observations, and curious about spider webs, hopping birds, and insects in the tree.
Extending this study of animals and our environment a bit farther, we can ask questions about the conditions of where creatures live. We can discuss concerns about healthy habitats. We can ask questions about who takes care of the forests, the jungles, the rivers, the trees. What can we do to take care of our community? I believe the seeds of problem solving skills sprout from the imagination of a child when they connect with nature and play in the woods.
As a role model for environmental stewardship and advocacy, John Muir developed his passion for nature during his boyhood on a Wisconsin farm. He knew instinctively that everything is connected - that every day we have choices to make.
By studying the actions of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Henry David Throreau, your local community stewards and many others who share similar beliefs and values, I believe we can all find role models to learn from to keep a vibrant nature connection.
Janice Kelley is the author of Through the Eyes of John Muir: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Looking at Our World. A series of interdisciplinary lessons in language arts, social studies, and science for third and fourth grade students. For more information about Janice, visit her website at www.naturelegacies.com.