Lessons from Nature

Taking your child on walks is a great way to expose him or her to the wonders of nature while fostering early learning and development.

Story and photos by Jayme Malkowski

Children are curious beings — naturally.

From birth they are exploring their world, the people in it and their surroundings. One of the benefits of living in Douglas County is our beautiful surroundings, which give us ample opportunities to support children’s development and early learning.

A nature walk is a great way to take advantage of them.

A nature walk is just a stroll for the purpose of observing the environment. Let your child take the lead on your walk. Does he or she comment on something or take particular notice of their surroundings or an item they see?

Bringing a small basket, bag or container for “special collections” is a great way for your child to bring outside items into your home. The small items collected from your walk can be used to set up a “nature table” in your child’s room, in jars along a windowsill, or on a child-height wall shelf or small tray.

Having these items displayed and accessible can allow children to re-examine the items and expand their learning.

If you take nature walks with your children throughout the year, they can see seasonal changes outdoors. You can help get them thinking by asking open-ended questions.

Example of a nature table.

Example of a nature table.

For very young, nonverbal children, this might include you stating aloud your observations in descriptive language, which helps children start to build their own vocabulary.

For verbal children, use open-ended questions and phrases such as “I wonder,” “I notice,” or “tell me more.” Open-ended questions invite deeper thinking and personal expression and encourage children to expand and explain their thoughts. Asking these kinds of questions helps children think about what they are observing, furthering their exploration and use of expressive language.

Open-ended questions to ask your child on a nature walk this time of year may include:

  • That rock looks smooth. I wonder what it feels like to you?

  • I wonder what will happen if we plant that bulb or seed?

  • What do you notice about this flower or plant?

Planting a bulb or seed indoors can lead to discussions about roots, stems, plant nutrients and soil. Using seeds from different plants available in your backyard is a great way to perform “experiments” with your child. Household items such as recycled egg cartons or emptied cans can be used as containers to start plants.

A nature walk can happen in your yard or neighborhood, on trails, or at a local park or garden.

Fall Creek Falls is just one of many family-friendly options in Douglas County. The trails of Stewart Park can also lead to many discoveries.

The Westside Community Garden, which grows many different vegetables year-round, is a beautiful spot to visit with children. The OSU Extension Master Gardener’s Discovery Garden is another wonderful experience.

The OSU Discovery Garden includes some creative examples of artwork made from reused materials, which can inspire children to create something of their own at home.

Children learn independently every day through normal routines and home life. We can foster children’s intrinsic curiosity about the world by allowing them to lead their own learning experiences during a nature walk.

The items your child brings back for their nature table can be used for multiple purposes. Small collections of sticks can be transformed into letters for early literacy opportunities. Rocks can be painted, seeds grown and transplanted, and leaves and feathers can be classified.

Douglas County is a perfect place for exploring nature with children, helping them learn and expand their young minds every step of the way.

Roseburg resident Jayme Malkowski, MAEd is an early childhood educator and advocate and creator of children’s environments.