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Connecting Young Children with Nature

3-14-16  otis & leaf 12-7-15 195With spring about to burst, it’s the perfect time to introduce your infant or toddler grandchild, son, daughter, niece, nephew or young friend to the great outdoors. A child is never too young to encounter nature — in fact, the younger the better! According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), recent studies document the importance of introducing children to the natural world, beginning in the early years. The development of their social, emotional, and physical health depends on this exposure.

If you can’t get your infant or toddler into nature, bring nature to them! It’s well known how children observe, listen, feel, taste, and take apart any and everything they encounter in an effort to become more acquainted with it. A very young child, presented with anything from a leaf to a pine cone to a snake skin (or the tail end of a snake) will engage his or her innate curiosity. Infants and toddlers do not associate nature, be it a fuzzy caterpillar, a slimy frog or a honey bee visiting a flower, with fear. Quite the opposite. Connecting young children with nature is a golden opportunity to foster curiosity and appreciation for this amazing natural world of ours. (Photo: Otis Brown investigating a red oak leaf.)

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22 responses

  1. Kit Pfeiffer

    Is that your beautiful grandchild??


    March 14, 2016 at 8:16 am

    • Yes, Otis is my grandson. Can’t wait until he’s old enough to hold a hand lens or a pair of binoculars!

      March 14, 2016 at 8:36 am

  2. carol stanley

    what a great photo!

    March 14, 2016 at 8:17 am

  3. Susan Showalter

    What an insightful post, I couldn’t agree more. Truer words never spoken. My favorite post yet! Thank you.

    March 14, 2016 at 8:20 am

  4. charlie berger

    mary all the recent medical evidence supports raise the kids dirty

    March 14, 2016 at 8:27 am

    • I’m living proof it doesn’t kill you!

      March 14, 2016 at 8:38 am

  5. Mary, I love this post…it is the core of my interactions with my 2 granddaughters and 2 grandsons from their visits to us way out in Calais, Vt, and at their homes in Cambridge, MA.,Monkton, VT., and Beaufort, S.C. The Cambridge granddaughters also are in a day school that is very nature based and they both are very active member’s of two beautiful Audubon Centers, “habitat and Drumlin Farm. I love when we join them at these places.
    Thank you so much for your incredible posts! I did not get one last Thursday, Mar.10th and Fri., March 11th. Is it possible to receive them?

    I have also volunteered with babies- 2nd graders at North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, VT….great programs and summer camps. Also teaching “Hands-On- Nature in a first grade classroom for several years. Nature is a major part of my life…I build my life around it. Your wonderful books, photos, and posts are a big and wonderful part of my love of nature and passing it on to children and adult friends a like,
    Thank you, Debora

    March 14, 2016 at 8:34 am

    • Hi Deborah,
      I was with this grandson of mine last week, which is why you didn’t receive a post on Thursday or Friday! I came to Vermont to direct the ELF program at VINS, and had the fun of designing many of the ELF workshops that are in Hands-On Nature. And I’m a big fan of Chip Darmstadt and all he’s done at North Branch NC…Thank you for all you’ve done in the field of e.e. with children, including your grandchildren. If you could email me the name of the nature-based day school in MA, I would really appreciate it. ( Best to you. Mary

      March 14, 2016 at 8:43 am

  6. Jennifer Sawyer

    Not sure what happened to my message… It disappeared! …n

    Oh the joys of grandchildren… We used to hunt for “signs of spring” – lifting logs (salamanders ) then settling them back carefully etc… Now many of my grands are in college… Time really continues to fly… Cherish it all..

    Thank you again and always Mary for your posts… Jenny Sawyer

    March 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

  7. Lucy Hull

    Golden opportunities and golden times with grandchildren! Thanks so much for this post and for sharing this moment with your grandson with us. Of course you are preaching to the choir, but what could be nicer than celebrating spring with this lovely reminder?! My two grands are in Putney and we love outdoors time both there and when they come to see us on the Maine coast. Are you familiar with Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine? I worked there for many years and recommend their programs for children of all ages. (

    March 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

    • Yes, I have the greatest regards for the Chewonki Foundation!

      March 14, 2016 at 10:39 am

  8. Mary, this is one of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen. Looking at your sweet grandson, I am smelling that oak leaf and feeling it against my face…

    Speaking of the benefits of exposing young children to dirt, I remember sitting in the scrubby grass of my yard with my 3-month-old daughter and my mother. When my daughter dropped a teething toy, my mother said, “You know, you really don’t need to boil that before you give it back to her,” and I thought, “Are you kidding?” She wasn’t, of course, and had raised me when there was a lot of fear about germs (and my dad was a doctor), and she had boiled everything. But luckily, my instincts told me otherwise. Beyond that, my mom was great at introducing us to the natural world. Our routine on Sunday afternoons was to put on our “over-sock boots” and go tramping out together through the woods. And to her great credit, I was a snake lover, and I didn’t find out that she was afraid of snakes till I was grown up – she never showed her nervousness when I brought her a snake I had found.

    March 14, 2016 at 10:53 am

    • I loved learning about your childhood and child rearing! Your mother was so wise, and so incredible to overcome her fear in order to foster your interests. I am sure your daughter and any other children you may have were the lucky recipients of your wisdom.

      March 14, 2016 at 11:40 am

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  10. Guy Stoye

    I could not agree more about getting infants connected and familiar with nature. I want to mention, however, one thing I’ve noticed about little boys- toddlers and up until teen age. I was one myself. I’ve noticed that the first impulse of a little boy, when seeing a small creature, is to throw something at it. I do believe that this is a built-in instinct with male humans. It has to be shown to them that “You are hurting this creature. Would you like someone to do that to you???
    Fortunately, most of us outgrow this cruel behavior……… but not all of us.

    March 14, 2016 at 1:33 pm

  11. I couldn’t agree more, Mary. My childhood was largely spent outdoors and it has stayed with me my whole life. ‘Nature deficit’ is an epidemic that we must tackle one child, family, classroom at a time. I admire your work to do so!
    That Otis is a cutie and a lucky guy to have you as a grandma! ❤

    March 14, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    • Thank you so much, Eliza. I think part of being kindred spirits is sharing a similar upbringing!

      March 14, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      • Yep, raised by wolves! ;-D

        March 14, 2016 at 10:08 pm

  12. Lovely photo

    March 14, 2016 at 3:18 pm

  13. Kathie Fiveash

    there is nothing more important for our children and our planet than this.

    March 14, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    • So glad you are of like mind, Kathie. I knew you would be!

      March 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm

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