Connect children with nature, science and art

Submitted by Story County Extension

Connecting young children with nature will inspire and support budding scientists, techies, engineers, artists and mathematicians, says Malisa Rader, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“Children in early childhood learn primarily through their senses and from direct hands-on experience,” said Rader, who specializes in family life issues. “Children develop an understanding about the world through play, exploration and creative activities, and by watching and imitating adults and other children.”

Young children have a lot of energy and are naturally curious about the world around them, Rader said. Parents, child care providers and educators can encourage children’s creativity by offering hands-on activities like dramatic play, painting, drawing, sculpting, music and dance.

“Early learning and experience is critical to child development,” Rader said. “Some call it a ‘window of opportunity’ that doesn’t usually reappear in later life. The early years are a time to develop positive impressions about nature and build the foundation for lifelong social and academic skills.”

Research shows that people who have become committed to the environment and its beauty spent time outdoors in wild or semi-wild places when they were children, with adults who taught them respect for nature, Rader said.

Rader suggests trying these ideas when taking a young child outside:

• Watch a caterpillar or a lighting bug or listen to chirping crickets.

• Point at a bird in the yard.

• Talk about the leaves.

• Touch pine tree needles.

• Paint a picture of a flower.

• Gaze at the clouds while lying in the grass.

“Children stay engaged in nature activities for long periods of time outside. Watch the child’s sense of wonder, joy and mystery. Talk together about what you’re seeing, and rediscover your own sense of wonder as well,” Rader said.

Malisa Rader is an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist housed in the Hamilton County Office. Her education and experiences in the field of early childhood and parenting education have developed her passion to empower and strengthen the well-being of children, families, and the communities in which they live. You can reach her at (515) 708-0622 or mrader@iastate.edu.