“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.” -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder
When I was in college, I took an Ecology class. I was thrilled to be introduced to the information and to put my passion for the environment into action by helping lead the Environmental Stewardship Society with a friend who is now National Park Ranger. During the course of the semester, I listened to lectures, read books and took plenty of exams. I even wrote a paper on the impact that DDT still has on our communities today. It was during this semester, though, that I realized that even though I am a primarily visual learner, I do gain a great bit from a tactile experience. Which is why my insect collection, although one of the greatest challenges of my college career, was also one of the greatest revelations of my young adult life. I have such serene memories of those months, punctuated by feelings of terror when I remember my misguided attempts at capturing an angry bumblebee, and they are primarily due to being outside. I grew up outside, but I didn’t really know much about nature. I made a declaration that I would make sure my children not only got the opportunity to experience the world around them, but also the chance to understand and appreciate it.
I have been waiting for the chance to introduce my son to the natural world. We went outside in the snow and ice so that he could feel it, but it wasn’t really the experience that I had hoped for. Mainly because at 6 months, there isn’t going to be the enthusiasm I feel being mirrored back at me. But now. Now that he is 9 months old, I am getting to watch the light bulb turn on as he realizes the difference between surfaces and substances and I knew that he would begin to enjoy our walks for a different reason. So this week, we made trips to the compost pile where I explained how and why it works. We even hung around and watched Daddy turn the compost so that we could see the rich, black soil at the bottom. I took Liam to a greenhouse where we purchased some plants and then showed him the root systems as we transplanted them into our herb potters at home. We ended our week with a trip to COSI yesterday. We were really there to celebrate my nephew’s birthday and see the Titanic exhibit, but Liam and I got some chances to talk.
Cosi has a wonderful section that is for children age 5 and under (accompanied by their parents, of course). It was here that we were able to spend quality time at the water tables playing with the simple toys and watching the water react to how he slapped it or what it was passed through. I had hoped for a bigger reaction, but he wasn’t feel tip-top, so we will simply have to return at another time. In the main play room, they had giant light switches. I was super excited about this because Liam knew just what to do. Every time we leave a room where the light is on, we turn it off. He puts his tiny little index finger up to the switch and we “save electricity” and turn the switch off. If you leave a room without doing so, he wants to go back and turn the light off. I think it’s great. Already he is aware of a routine so that when he is older and actually understands kilowatts and such, he won’t think that I’m such a nerd. Once inside the Titanic exhibit, he fell asleep waking only just before the rooms outlining the crash and the final hours of the ill-fated ship. It was in this room, that I realized that he’s never been outside when the stars are out. He was fascinated by the way the “stars” twinkled in the night and I made a mental note to take him outside and show him the night sky this fall when it’s dark before his bedtime. Before we left, we went to see the movie about Whales on the 7-story screen. Liam hadn’t been himself much of the trip, wanting to be held and somewhat fussy, but as soon as he saw the giant mammals swimming across the screen, he lit up. He waved his arms and called out to them as though they were right there. I can only assume that he thought they were in an aquarium like we had seen at the zoo. What is fun is that I had just opened a Christmas present of bath toys that had several whales in it that were featured in the movie. So now when my little guy plays in the tub, we can talk about the Orkas and the Hammerhead sharks and he’ll have heard those words before.
Here’s the thing, Liam doesn’t know the difference between sand and dirt yet. He doesn’t understand the concepts of erosion and it will be some time before he does. However, he can still listen to me explain to him why we plant trees and why I cry when I see the hawks scrounging up the carrion in the middle of the city. We read our books and we talk about waste and it’s impact on the environment. I showed him the recycling bins at home and told him that someday, he’d get to make a trip with me to the center to drop off our stuff. When we go for walks, we talk about what we see. Or rather, I talk and he babbles back his response. Liam doesn’t talk all that much on a day to day basis, but when we are outside, he does. He loves to watch the geese in the pond along the bike trail and he thinks it’s funny when the trees blow in the wind. I’m hoping that through this and many other exposures we can continue to learn together about the environment and nature; and that in time, he too will learn to love it as much as I do. And as much as I learned from my insect collection, I am honestly hoping that he doesn’t develop a real interest for that species until later. Maybe in his own ecology class.