The Child's Innate Love for Nature
By Maria Teresa Vidales
From the very beginning of life, it is vital to maintain the link between child and nature. To achieve this, we need to become aware of the importance of nature in our own lives, Only then we will be able to share this wonderful world of miracles with our children.
Many times, adults think that young children only need to eat and sleep well; we ignore that they also need to be in nature and interact with it, as it is crucial for their physical and emotional development. Think about the natural movement of the leaves as a mobile that will help the child to develop his vision. Think about the music in nature to stimulate the child's sense of hearing - the songs of the birds, the sound of dry leaves when we step on them, or the rain hitting the ground. Close your eyes and recall the smell of the soil after the rain, the perfume of the rose when it starts to open, or the fragrance of basil when you cut a leaf. What a wonderful way to stimulate the sense of smell.
The problem is that in our day, children live an artificial life in our cities, where nature gets restricted to a park, or if you are lucky enough, to a home with a garden, and even that may not provide a healthy interaction with nature. If the child is not able to hear, to see, to touch, he will not be able to love. We can love only that which we know. The young child acquires the knowledge of his surroundings through his senses. That is why in Montessori we say the young child is a sensorial explorer.
However, today most children are isolated from nature, and through this isolation, and through the attitude of the adults, they start to become afraid of nature because of all the bad things that can happen; be it rain, cold, heat, or the many natural things we have lost the ability to enjoy. Gradually the child becomes the prisoner of his own fears, detaching from nature. In time, he closes the door to nature and becomes unable to relate to it. Sadly, the child gets tired after a short walk, he does not seem interested and does not have enough energy to enjoy nature. Saddest of all, he looses interest in all living beings around him. In a few words, the child starts to take everything for granted and he is not able to appreciate the miracles that happen around him when he is surrounded by nature. Worst of all, we the adults regard it as normal; we cannot notice that the child is detaching from nature as we are also detached from it and we are unable to relate to it in a healthy way. We are even happy that this is happening because it is easier to care for the child in the indoor environment. We cannot see the damage that this is causing the child.
More often, the first contact children have with nature is through a TV, tablet or computer. All living beings become part of a machine and it is very difficult for children to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Their senses get confused; they can see in a two-dimensional plane many things that they cannot touch or smell, so the concepts of what these beings are becomes distorted. And so, the child's detachment from nature grows, because the child will be less and less interested in it.
The development of movement will be affected, because the kind of movement the child needs to do in the outdoor environment is very different. As the child starts to move less, he starts to lose certain abilities and becomes more sedentary. It is here we find the beginning of many problems of our day: obesity starts to develop; the sense of sight is affected as his eyes get used to the artificial light produced by the screens, and the movements of the eyes need to change their normal pattern. The sense of touch gets reduced to the tip of the fingers, only to use the TV control or the tablet. Nature becomes just a picture without a real meaning and only a few words relate to it.
As the child builds concepts of the things in his surroundings based on the sensorial experience he gets from them, the concept about nature and all the things in it becomes very poor. His senses are not involved, and the picture that the child can build about his world is very poor because there are no sensorial experiences to recall.
To name something, we need to know it; to know it for the child is to use all his senses to recognize the object. The sensory experiences provided by nature give the child the opportunity to connect his inner world with the external world; but when these things do not happen, a sense of loneliness and depression invades the child. Often, adults become aware of these signs of depression and loneliness and try to fulfil them with material gifts that are never enough, because the main point has been missed.
We must know that naturally, the child does not take anything for granted; everything is new and he has the willingness to learn from all these experiences. Nature gives the child the opportunity to fulfil his need for belonging, which goes farther than belonging to his specific environment; it is giving the child the opportunity to develop a feeling of transcendence through the possibility of experiencing his sense of belonging to something bigger, the Cosmos.
The door to nature needs to be opened to the child little by little. It is the responsibility of the adult to prepare activities in such a way that they are beneficial for the child; his relationship with the whole environment during the first three years of life will lay foundations for his self-construction: The way we move, the way we communicate with others; the way we understand our environment, ourselves and life; the way we exercise our will by making choices and being responsible for what we have chosen; and the way we express our emotions, the capacity to identify them, express them and handle them.
When the outdoor environment is well prepared, the child becomes free to move about and interact with nature. He will be able to develop his voluntary movements, he will be able to develop his sense of sight, hearing and smell. Most important, he will be able to learn the names of all these experiences if an adult can name them for him. In time, other activities will benefit the child and will deepen his relationship with nature. First, watering plants and caring for them. Later, feeding and caring for animals and their environment. Through these activities, the love the child has for his surroundings grows deeper; the child becomes filled with feelings of kindness and tenderness and his self-esteem and self-image continue to develop. A spiral for growth develops; the more he is involved in taking care of others, the deeper his love for the environment grows. His emotions start to unfold, as well as his self-esteem and self-image, which will push him to do more and more because he gets the feeling that he can do it by himself, that he is capable of taking care of others. All these experiences will allow the child to develop his great potential, will allow him to construct himself and become the man he was meant to be.
The development of these characteristics will affect the child's development of independence and the development of his whole life, allowing the child to become a man of his environment, time and epoch. For this to happen, nature has to be more than an exceptional event in a child's life. It must be a part of everyday life, and an organised outdoor environment will be the key to this healthy relationship.
Let's take the hands of children and allow them to guide us in the path of rediscovery of nature, in the path of rediscovery of the world through their eyes, keeping in mind that with each child that is born, new hopes and promises are born, and these hopes and promises, are our challenge.