“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” -Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
If the flurry of recently published books is any indication, there seems to be a longing for reconnection to the natural world. Somewhere along our journey to becoming a “civilized” nation, we left behind some key aspects of our former lifestyle. A deep understanding, and some would say appreciation, for the beauty of nature. We miss it when it’s not there and we try to fulfill it in other ways: being outside at soccer practice, playground play, and beach excursions. But, we’re still missing something. In the book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv describes how a child’s outside wanderings have greatly diminished in the last sixty years. While my grandfather had miles of terrain to explore freely and openly by himself, our children today have a few houses, or just a neighborhood block. Yes, our population is greater and more of us live in cities, but many of us are still missing a deep connection to nature…a connection we can recover regardless of where we live.
At present, my family and I live in an attached villa/condo in the most populated county in Florida. We are lucky, though, because we live within walking distance to a wonderful asset: a large county park. With over one hundred acres of ecosystem, my eldest son and I can explore for hours. We see native birds and race to the information booth to discover their names. His sense of wonder fuels my own and our walks were a daily occurrence. At least, they were until his younger brother was born and it hit high summer in Florida. After a few months of indoor activities, our walks were abandoned. The weather began to cooperate again and I eagerly pulled out the stroller (for his younger brother) and declared the day for walking. But, my four-year-old? He preferred to stay indoors and concentrate on his play.
I followed his lead. We made pretend soup and mastered Memory, but I missed our walks. I felt lost without our nature connection and I could see that my child also needed to increase his time outdoors. He enjoyed himself immensely when given the time to search for sticks and keep an eye out for snakes and lizards. However, he was just coming into the age of serious imaginary play. He really enjoyed being inside and “constructing” fantasies. But, I knew he needed some outside time and unfortunately, we had very little backyard, so it needed to be a neighborhood walk. After a little bit of research, I felt ready to entice him back outside. I had a new tool at my disposal: scavenger hunts.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
It seemed almost too easy. I figured I could create a few scavenger hunts in a computer file that would be easy to change. But, then I didn’t. I could never seem to find the time to get to the computer before outside inspiration struck. Whenever I did think about it, the baby was in the room sleeping and nothing was going to get me to go in there to print out a scavenger hunt and interrupt a well-deserved nap. So, I waited. Again. More brainstorming. And, then I came up with an easy solution: a nature journal.
What began as a notebook to record all of my musings, daily thoughts and plans turned into a nature journal solely for this purpose. An older child would most likely have a personal nature journal, but since my child is only starting to write, we decided on a family nature journal. In the beginning of our scavenging, I would list four different items to seek out and draw the number of pieces next to the name. We brought a special bag – just for his findings – and we were always careful to take only what we needed (and never take a living plant or animal).
“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
Sense of Wonder
Not only did this teach my child the value of being in nature – without expressly pointing out such a fact, it also assisted him with recognizing the teen numbers that we have been working on mastering. In addition, he is usually by my side when I am writing the words – a connection that is significant in teaching children to read and write. Now, we take off for walks and often my child will say, “Let’s do a scavenger hunt.” And, as I consider running back inside for our nature journal, he is already creating one in his head.
With summer approaching, academic worries are replaced with long summer days – and nights. If your schedule follows the school year, a child may sometimes need a push to go outside and play during the carefree summer days. A scavenger hunt is the perfect way to reignite your child’s sense of wonder. Whether they “learn” anything or not, relax and enjoy the beauty of the environment and allow your child to feel your sense of wonder.
Other scavenger hunt tips
– If you have a younger child (four and under), limit the number of items to two or three. A good rule of thumb is to include the same number of different items as their age.
– Don’t get too caught up in tallying your find at the end of the hunt. Follow your child. If he/she is concerned that you might forget some things, be sure and gently remind him to look for a particular item.
– If you have older children, try a scavenger hunt at night – complete with a full moon and flashlights – the perfect way to take advantage of those nice summer nights.
– Other books to help your child get excited about walks and/or nature journals: Crinkleroot’s Guide to Walking in Wild Places by Jim Arnosky and Around the Pond: Who’s Been Here by Lindsay Barrett George.
Liz Greaser spends her days learning and exploring with her two young sons and her work-at-home husband. She will always suggest going on a scavenger hunt to avoid doing the dishes. She blogs at Notes From a Small Town.