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Curious Nature

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2007

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

can be cut, colored and used to transform the average preschooler into a box turtle. Foam insulation tubes, the kind that go around pipe, become insect “feelers” or antenna. Give your child an idea and encourage her imagination.

Think and relate like a child

Most adults have forgotten what it’s like to think as children. When young children learn, they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it; they don’t have the time. At this stage, energy for the learning process is focused all at once on physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

No wonder your preschooler can wear you out. Respond accordingly. Allow your child to interpret the outdoors in his or her own way without your judgment. Of course you’ll want to keep your child safe and most of the lawn intact, but your child’s imagination usually needs only your guidance, not your direction.

For instance, my 4-year-old neighbor found a worm on the asphalt. She built a house for the worm using grass for the walls, a leaf for the roof, and a rock for the front yard. She went into great detail explaining that worms need to be comfortable and covered. (This is what she receives from her home.) I had to stop my “adult” mind from saying, “Worms are more comfortable when covered in dirt. In fact ….” Instead, I asked, “Where do worms live when we don’t build houses for them?”

By allowing your child to relate in his or her own way to the outdoors, however incorrect it may seem, you can accomplish at least three things. First, your child is gently encouraged to take another look at his or her theory on the subject at hand. Second, your youngster sees learning as a positive experience. And third, the natural world remains a positive place to be.

Think in terms of what you can do

Along with the idea that humans relate what they learn to what they already know, many educators and psychologists support a hands-on approach to learning called Piaget’s Constructivist Theory. Simply stated, young children “construct” knowledge by physically and mentally exploring their environment. If you subscribe to this theory, then you understand that your child will not fully appreciate her environment unless you allow her to be physical and use all five senses.

Some of you are probably thinking, “Are you crazy? What about poison ivy, venomous snakes, black widow spiders.” Those fears are reasonable, but they can be tempered by familiarizing yourself with the environment. The outdoor experience provides so many more opportunities for positive rather than negative interactions.

There are many learning resources available. The Missouri Department of Conservation maintains a Web site full of articles and information at www.missouriconservation.org. Free publications on fish, forest and wildlife resources native to Missouri are also available at nature centers and many Department offices. See page 1 for a listing of regional phone numbers.

Even better, visit a Department office, nature center or range on your own or for a program. Call your regional office or visit the Web site for local program offerings. There are interpretive and educational programs for all ages on a wide range of natural history and outdoor skills topics.

We’d love to help introduce your child to the outdoors and answer your questions. Or, when curious nature gets the best of your youngster and he impatiently asks, “What do you mean you don’t know?” we can help you answer his question.

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