How to help develop children’s awareness of nature and their surroundings

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Shane Jordan is an Education Environmental Practitioner and a qualified Early Years Practitioner with a Level 4 Higher Education Certificate in Education Studies. Here, he explains the different ways that you can help young children develop their awareness of nature and the outdoors: 

Plants are all around us, in all different shapes and colours. Parks and forests have open access to grass, trees and sometimes lakes. Allowing your child to have access to these things can be very beneficial. However, with every green space, there are  potential environmental hazards that we all should be aware of, especially young children. Instead of scaring children and causing fear over these subjects, these lessons should be taught as a fun exciting way to learn about your surroundings. Turn fear into curiosity, and curiosity into awareness.

Herbs

Herbs are versatile plants. Growing them is a great way to start showing children how fun and interesting they are. You can use herbs to introduce them to growing and looking after plants in general. Most herbs are easy to grow and maintain, many are aromatic, and nearly all are easy to harvest and are edible. If you choose from a selection of the common garden herbs you will have a lovely edible and ornamental area in your garden or windowsill. If you want really low maintenance plants then it would help to choose perennials, as you will not have to plant them every year.  These include chives, sage, lemon balm, mint and oregano.

Environmental awareness

Walking with children through the grass can be a beautiful experience, but they also need to be aware of the potential dangers of what lurks in the grass:

Stinging nettles

One of the most widespread plants in the UK are stinging nettles. They are found everywhere throughout fields and the countryside. Nettle leaves are covered in tiny, needle-like hairs. If you brush against a nettle, the hairs break off, pierce your skin and sting you, producing a burning sensation which can be itchy and leave a rash if untreated.

Experts say that the dock leaf is an effective natural remedy for nettle rash.  They say the dock leaf contains chemicals that, when rubbed over the sting, neutralises it and cools the skin. It is also a good idea to teach toddlers what stinging nettles look like so they can avoid them for themselves. This is great Environmental Education (EE) that practitioners  should pass on to children.

Giant hogweed

Giant hogweed can grow very big and is often found along footpaths and riverbanks. If the sap of the plant comes into contact with your skin, it can cause a painful burn and make your skin sensitive to strong sunlight.

If you touch a giant hogweed, cover the affected area and wash it with soap and water. Yet again, teach children how to be aware of this.

Thorny plants

Thorny plants such as roses, holly, blackberry bushes, and brambles can cause infections if they become implanted in your skin.

You can remove thorns with tweezers – sometimes this is easier after soaking the area in warm water for a few minutes. You can avoid this by teaching children how to check for plants with spiny leaves or thorns. A health and safety lesson can be taught to encourage children to wear gardening gloves when they  handle thorny plants.

The importance of awareness

Dr. Stephen R. Kellert (Professor of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental studies) says, “Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically.”

Trips and outings

Trips and outings should support the development and learning that takes place within the setting. Outings provide important opportunities for learning and are an essential part of a child’s experience. The sensory experience of touching the leaves, breaking branches and viewing nature up close is extremely beneficial to a child’s development.


If you have any questions for Shane, he can be contacted here


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