In an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!
9. Educate your students' families on how to connect with nature.
One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Rachel Carson, when she says "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder... 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."
The quote inspires me to be that adult, the one with whom my students can explore the world and marvel at its mysteries. I do everything I can to make room for joy and wonder in the classroom. But let's be real - there isn't enough time in the school day to do it right. The pressures of academic expectations in kindergarten (or any grade) are way too high to really let my students spend the optimal amount of time exploring the outdoors. I am lucky if I get in 30 minutes a day of unstructured time for my students, plus a few science lessons outside each week.
But this is where I turn to my students' families - after all, they are the ones who spend the most significant amount of time with their children, long after the kindergarten year is over. Why not help them learn to bring joy and wonder into their children's lives? Yes, families are busy, and many may not be receptive to pushes from their child's teacher to find time for playing outside. But I believe strongly in the importance of connecting children with nature, so it's worth every attempt at involving my students' families to do just that.
There are lots of ways to involve families. I run the garden committee at my school, which has parents and community members on board for planting and growing the garden. We also encourage parents to adopt the garden for a week in the summer, bringing their children with them to weed and harvest during the non-school season.
If you don't have a garden, consider purchasing books that parents can borrow. I recently read How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson, and LOVED it. It's filled with ideas for how parents can help their children at each stage of growth (early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence) become enamored by the natural world. He gives ideas for how parents can become "nature mentors" (like Rachel Carson advises), addresses the paradox of technology and the outdoors, and lists tons of other resources for parents and caregivers.
Another good resource is the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. He outlines the research behind the dramatic drop in time spent outdoors, and why it's bad for children's health and futures. This one is a little gloomier than How to Raise a Wild Child, but it's become a classic for parents and teachers who are worried about their children's connection to nature.
There are also TONS of resources available online, and I sometimes print this and attach them to my weekly family newsletter. Here are just a few you could include:
- seasonal Family Play Plans, which give ideas for how to go outdoors and play each season
- a free nature scavenger hunt for families, to encourage them to go outdoors together
- a list of ideas for how to raise a wild child, from the author of the book
- the ultimate list of books that inspire nature exploration
- Wild Child: Rewilding Childhood, an online course that families can take to learn how to stimulate a sense of wonder and cultivate appreciation for the natural world!
These conversations might be hard to have at first, since parents are often worried about a myriad of things besides getting their kids outdoors more. But I believe it will help enormously to encourage parents in your mission to bring more joy and wonder into the lives of your students. Make sure to tell parents that they don't need to be nature experts to take their kids outdoors - it's less important to name all the plants on your hike, and more important that you are going on a hike together.