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Foraging a connection to nature

"Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives" Thomas Berry 


This famous quote from nature's historian Thomas Berry truly encapsulates just how vital experiences in nature are for children. Early childhood is a crucial period for brain development - it is when our brains plasticity is at it's greatest! Young children are more likely to experience profound benefits in their development of biophilia (affinity with nature and love for the Earth) during this crucial time. As adults it is up to us to give children as many opportunities as possible to explore and play in nature, experiences in nature should outweigh the transmission of factual knowledge in early childhood. Randy White's article on the young child's relationship with nature really hammers home why we should avoid abstract teaching - get them OUTSIDE!!

"The problem with much environmental education is that it approaches education from an adult’s, rather than a child’s perspective. Children’s curiosity with the natural world and unique way of knowing requires discovery and exploratory learning, rather than a didactic approach. One of the main problems with most environmental education is premature abstraction, teaching children too abstractly" (White, 2004)

We need children to LOVE nature before we can expect them to care for nature! White cautions educators with the introduction of the term 'biophobia' - "fear of the natural world and ecological problems". Biophobia can manifest in environmental education if children experience - too much abstraction - to soon

The complete article can be found here:
-   https://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/childrennature.shtml

So how will we foster children's connection with nature? What works? What role can adults take? Adults can embrace children's natural curiosity and unique way of knowing,  we can foster discovery and exploration in the natural world by sharing a sense of wonder, adventure and experiential learning .  Give children REAL experiences in NATURE!

Through this blog I hope to share our journey in nature connection and detail what works for us and how we approach nature with children.

“Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.” John Burroughs

Above is an image of my eldest daughter leading a group of nature players on a native raspberry foraging mission. My daughter and I have shared many foraging walks, through these walks I have passed on my love of using all five senses in nature; foraging along side me has sharpened Lily's observation skills and confidence, she is so enthusiastic and switched on when she shares her knowledge with family and friends!
 Foraging is such a valuable nature connection tool, here is a list of just a few benefits I have observed:
  1.  Increases in children's vocabulary, 
  2.  Knowledge of the seasons and food availability 
  3. Cultural knowledge - traditions of our local Gumbayniggirr people
  4. Awareness of eco-systems and interdependence of living things
  5. Improved observation skills
  6. Increases in level of confidence, dispositions and decision making abilities. 
Foraging gives children a purpose, it is a survival skill and has many health benefits - most of the native plants have medicinal qualities!


Native Sarsaparilla

Native Sarsaparilla vine - our children are experts at spotting these sought after pink leaves! The pink leaves can be eaten straight off the vine and have a sweet aniseed flavour. We call them lolly leaves! This particular bush food is constantly requested along our walks. Thank you to the Gumbayniggirr people for sharing their knowledge of these bush foods. The Arrawarra Sharing Culture fact sheets are a great source of local knowledge and culture. http://www.arrawarraculture.com.au/fact_sheets/

Like any activity foraging comes with risks and it is important to develop healthy habits in children early  - before every forage mission we go over the first rule of bush food - "never eat anything your not sure about!" Children are reminded that they can only eat plants identified (by a knowing adult) as safe and ripe. Get in touch with your local national parks and wildlife team to go on a tour of your local area before you start your foraging journey, this will improve your skills and confidence in identifying plants. Many Indigenous countries also have local fact sheets on native bush foods. With the combined experience and references your foraging will yield lots of culinary delights! 
Foraging a connection to nature is exactly what occurs when you provide regular opportunities for children to explore and experience nature in a playful and experimental fashion. A love of nature is formed when we allow children to lead the experiences they have in nature - step back - give them space to be themselves and explore. Show them natures wonders with enthusiasm and wonder yourself and watch the magic happen! There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child find a ripe raspberry or sarsaparilla leaf - "squeal" in delight - rush to show everyone and then share natures gifts with their friends! Makes my day - every time!!