The Natural World and Young Children
I remember, as a young child, crouching down next to the peony bush in my grandmother’s flower garden and closely inspecting the tight buds, waiting for the big, black ants to crawl over them and unlock the secret seal of the beautiful flower. I thought the ants released just the right amount of magic to make that beautiful flower open—I still remember that magical thinking!
Now, (no thanks to Google) I learned that idea is just an old wives tale! But back then—it was magic! Magic that touched the deepest, most visceral part of my brain and created this life-long memory (and love of peonies!). I was using what developmental psychologists refer to as “magical thinking” to make sense of my world. Young children inherently see and understand the world differently than adults. At Greenhouse, we recognize and honor their way of seeing the world as not only appropriate, but vital to their development and learning. We nurture that sense of wonder—that sense of magic—so it can develop into a life-long sense of joy and become a motivating force for future learning. Yes, facts, logic and science take over eventually but only after time, experience and most importantly, development.
Much like my peony bush, the stuff of the earth is the perfect impetus for young children’s magical thinking. Young children are drawn to—some say even biologically wired to– explore natural materials. Natural materials, like water, stone, light and plants, lend themselves to the development of imagination and creativity. We know that regular interaction and involvement with nature and the elements of the earth are crucial for brain development. Yet, the most current research is showing us that children are spending less and less time exploring the natural world. At Greenhouse, we provide our children with varied opportunities and access to natural play. We know the early years are the years of catching bugs, making stone soup and mud pies.
“I wish I could stay here forever.” This was the hushed whispering of a four year old Greenhouse student as she played in our pop-up Mud Kitchen, arranging the flowers she picked out of the garden onto the top of her mud pie.
Did this interaction with water, dirt and flowers touch the deepest part of her brain? Will she remember what it felt like to watch the cause and effect of adding water to her dirt?
Will she remember her feelings of power and control as she made her concoction?
Did she realize she was building her sense of competency?
Did she know that she was practicing the important thinking abilities and skills of scientists and artists as she created in her dirty baking dish?
She doesn’t need to know all that. Because we do!
Hope you are all having a happy summer and enjoying the natural world!
“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
― Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
Wilson, R., The Wonders of Nature: Honoring Children’s Way of Knowing, Earlychildhood NEWS, www.earlychildhoodnews.com
White, J. Making a Mud Kitchen, www.muddyfaces.co.uk.