Nurturing Our Connection With Nature

Nurturing Our Connection With Nature
By Susan Eisman
(Originally Published in HFP Newsletter — November 2007

I spent much of August camping, hiking and kayaking in the “great outdoors.” As school approached, I initially felt fearful and claustrophobic. It wasn’t the weight of the work, the eminent return to routines and certainly not the joy of all the rewarding relationships I feared; but terror that I’d feel cut off from nature. I had been basking in the vastness of hills, expansive skies, flowing rivers, waterfalls and creeks within an hour or two from Portland. I’d been in the company of wildlife (birds galore!) and entire forests of trees. So naturally I felt relaxed, whole, connected and deeply nourished. The notion of replacing all that natural richness with the density of “man-made” buildings, concrete, cars and general hubbub (albeit, ripe with opportunities and cultural offerings including farmers markets) scared me.

Returning to school in early September I felt deep gratitude for the tree loft we had installed in our
classroom last year. Walking in our play yard, I breathed deeply viewing the efforts we’d undertaken toward expanding and naturalizing the space over the past two years. We now have barrels of branches and stones for children to handle and move—“loose parts” that freely lend themselves to an array of play scripts. (*) The extension of the fence means that we daily interact with two huge trees and, with the plantings of last year, we even have fruit trees!

Still I grieved the lack—the lack of biodiversity, trees, wildlife, running water, varied heights to climb and view from and general wildness. I imagined what else our community might take on to bring back nature to this tiny nook in southeast Portland. I glimpsed more possibilities for connecting with
nature and challenged myself to think about ways that we might bring some of the magnificence of the wilderness to our play spaces— both inside and out.

I let my love of the earth and my ache for stepping away from the extended playtime in nature (that was summer adventure) fuel my teaching practice. In this way, I reaffirm the importance of raising future stewards of the earth, taking seriously and joyously the commitment to exposing children to the delights of the natural world.

Looking through this lens, we can take pride in the many simple things we do to deepen our connections to nature:

Spending lots of time outdoors. Tuning into the cycles and rhythms of the natural world.
Observing what is growing and happening around us.
Playing in our yard year-round, experiencing a variety of weather, light and states of plant and wildlife.
Finding and gently handling ladybugs, pill bugs and worms.
Discovering intricately woven spider webs.
Hanging on the spider web rope climber.
Climbing the camellia bush/tree. Decorating the 
tree, transforming it into a candy tree.
Running on the grassy slope adjacent to the 
parking lot beneath established trees.
Exploring the neighborhood on walks.
Collecting crimson and golden leaves. (They do in 
fact have the brilliance of jewels.)
Finding the bushiest rosemary plant thriving in 
front of a neighbor’s home.
Rubbing our hands across the bristles smelling the richness.
Returning to our own play yard and challenging a small group to find the “baby” rosemary plant growing.
Sprinting from plant to plant sniffing until they find the match.
Gathering fallen chestnuts, pine cones and other seeds over the weekend. Bringing them in to share and compare.
Exploring beehives and the exoskeletons of walking sticks.
Looking closely. Getting curious.
Cutting apples for applesauce. Cutting apples for 
taste tests. Smelling and guessing which kind of 
fruit.
Painting with apples.
Carrying, dumping and pretending with apple and 
pumpkin containers.
Hiding and finding baby pumpkins.
Digging seeds out of pumpkins. Toasting and eating pumpkin seeds. Munching on pumpkin muffins. Romping among pumpkins at the pumpkin farm.
Pinching sunflower seeds from a giant sunflower head. Tasting those seeds. Gluing and collaging sunflower seeds.
Singing about the Earth, pumpkin vines, apple cider making, wet rain and bushy-tailed squirrels.
Singing about speckled frogs and playing ducks that have wandered from their mother.
Singing some more about “peace like a river” and “love like the ocean.”
Snuggling, sharing and storytelling with Seaweed the sea otter and Whoey the owl.
Bringing the outdoors in: blooming flowers, fallen leaves, pine-cones, chestnuts, etc.
Mirroring the color of the season with paints, crayons and fabrics available.
Posting nature photos with stunning fall leaves in our bathroom stalls and classroom walls.
Preparing worm bins by tearing and dampening newspaper. Holding squirmy worms.
Reading books that reflect the beauty and vastness of nature.
Carrying chestnuts from tent to basket to the top of the loft.
Tossing paper scraps in the recycling bin, rather than the garbage.
Reusing packaging and transforming it into dramatic play props.
Using washcloths to dry our hands, rather than paper towels.

And on and on!

I am pleased to partner with all of you and I am deeply appreciative of all the time, energy, patience, love and creativity you continue to invest in your children inside and outside of the classroom.

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