On the weekend we spent some time at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) exploring the works of Janet Laurence in the new exhibition After Nature. Laurence is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists and has explored the interconnection of all living things – animal, plant, mineral – through a multi-disciplinary approach.
Janet Laurence’s work highlights the impact of the Anthropocene era. This era represents a segment on the Earth’s timeline in which humans have inhabited the earth. The effects of a growing population has meant that we have significantly altered the landscape, the climate, the plants and animals. Laurence's work, highlights the complexity and beauty of our natural world, making us question our relationship with and understanding of the world around us.
The beautiful and thought provoking collection emphasised to us the importance of children spending time in natural environments where they can begin to understand our world's natural complexities. Delving deeper beyond the literal surface of our earth to see and investigate what’s under the surface and how interconnected and dependent our ecosystem really is. If children have a greater understanding and appreciation for our environment we can be sure that it will be taken care of for generations to come.
So it is important from a young age to spend as much time as possible outside or engaging with nature. Living in a beautiful city like Sydney, we are lucky that for the most part we are fairly well surrounded by nature and that we can access such a wide variety of beautiful landscapes with relative ease. It is so important that children spend time outdoors, not only for their cognitive and physical development but for their sense of place and appreciation for the natural world.
Here are some suggestions for nature experiences for you to do alongside your little one or for them to do independently to explore the natural world around them.
Spend time each day observing and discussing the weather, perhaps when they are getting dressed. What the temperature means in relation to the season or what direction the wind is blowing in and how strong it is. Discuss the intensity of the sun's heat, rainfall and the weather occurrences around the world.
Spend time outdoors everyday and where possible, mix it up. Of course there are massive health benefits to spending time outside like building up Vitamin D but it also gives children a better understanding of the world around them. Take the time to really look at different plants, insects, animals, observe what you can see and perhaps ponder what you can’t, smell different plants, be still - observe and listen to the movement in nature.
Get a bug catcher, an ant farm or make a home for a grasshopper. Follow children as they chase butterflies. ‘Owning a bug’ gives children a great deal of responsibility and allows them to observe the behaviours that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Collect some flowers and foliage to place somewhere around your home.
Try growing a plant. There are so many options with varying degrees of ease. Children learn so many things, most notably a sense of responsibility and understanding, as well as many science principles like cause and effect and hypothesising.
Cook. Giving children a greater appreciation how food grows is invaluable to their health and understanding of where food comes from. Don’t forget to share in the experience of tasting along the way.
Build collections of natural objects. Stones, flowers, crystals, seeds, shells, twigs. It gives these objects a sense of value
Make art using natural elements. See our blog post for some suggested art projects using nature
Watch animal and environment documentaries. Expose children to far away lands and ecosystems they didn’t even know existed.
Make potions and mud pies. Buy or re-purpose some second hand pots and pans and let children go. They will get messy, but it’s nothing a bath or shower can't fix.
Show your child how to take photos on your phone and let them take some pictures of nature next time you go for a walk.
Share in their interest and wonder at their discoveries. Try to track down the proper names of plants and animals.
Head to the library to find a wide variety of resources to delve into.
Encourage birds to your garden by planting natives. Observe and identify your friendly visitors or take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count which can also be done in a local park.
Moon and star watch. Explore the phases of the moon, and identify the constellations.
On the next rainy day, set out on an adventure. Remember there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes choices.
Build a mini world. Think fairy garden, farm, dinosaur land or castle. Find a large pot or spot in the garden and using found and bought object build a mini-scape your little one can imagine walking around it.