Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Walk in the Park: Direct Experience with Nature Can Unlock a Child's Inherent Desire to Explore and See Connections in the World around Them

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Walk in the Park: Direct Experience with Nature Can Unlock a Child's Inherent Desire to Explore and See Connections in the World around Them

Article excerpt

Child development is a fascinating area of study. However, sometimes we get so caught up in what is supposed to be occurring cognitively, physically and emotionally that we, as parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc., forget to just stand back and watch what is happening with our children. Both of us are fathers of children who enjoy being outdoors, and this is a firsthand account of what we witness as benefits to our kids from playing in parks.

Children inherently want to move and explore the space around them. There is no better avenue for this than in our parks. Most every park offers multiple forms of free-range learning. Parks are attractive to children because they provide an avenue for escape from the structure of their daily lives. Any teacher would say that learning should start at any early age with hands-on experiences. In this case, learning should occur with nature in the parks. There is evidence that concern for the environment is based on affection for the outdoors that only develops with ungoverned contact with nature. The way children feel in the outdoors improves recall of information, creative problem solving and creativity.

In today's culture, children are torn between the confining spaces of the couch, TV, computer screen and the cellphone. However, they often become motivated to learn when they can make their own discoveries in the outdoors. Our family visited parks in Wisconsin and Florida over an eight-month span, and our 3- and 5-year-old girls demonstrated a love of parks and deep, memory-enhancing learning by experiencing nature firsthand.

Making Connections

At Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin, our girls explored the park, and, upon completing an age-appropriate, incredibly fun scavenger hunt to spot spider webs, native plants and animals, and a hiking trail, they earned their very own Wisconsin Explorer's badges. Now, at least once a week, while exploring local parks and forests in Missouri, my children make connections. "This park looks just like Wisconsin," said 3-year-old Karina, "because of the big trees. When can we go back to Wisconsin, dad?"

Their love of learning about the natural world carried over in a recent trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and Manatee Park in Lee County, Florida. As a dad, my goal is always to promote learning and conservation, while increasing health and critical thinking. I want my girls to ask why, make connections, and begin to see that they need to protect the parks. …

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