This post was written by educator and Grosvenor Teaching Fellow, Claire Flynn.
One of my biggest takeaways from my almost month-long expedition to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and Antarctica during November 2019, was the importance of slowing down to notice and appreciate the world around me. While in these amazing locations, it was natural to stop and watch a group of king penguins for an hour, but I had to remember to build that same practice into my daily life when I returned home. It was such an important lesson for me, and one that I think a lot of people do not think about because we are always busy doing something, that I decided to focus my public programming on this idea for summer 2020 at the Long Island Children’s Museum.
Anyone can be an explorer and can notice interesting things about the world around them. You do not have to go somewhere far away or exotic, you just have to be curious and spend time looking. In today’s environment, a lot of people feel uncomfortable spending unstructured time outside and need help figuring out how to slow down. I worked with my teen volunteering group, the Green Teens, to explore this concept and come up with ways for parents to support their kids in spending time together outside. All of the activities that we developed together were posted on the Museum’s social media sites for parents to use. Families did not need to have access to a backyard or any sort of complicated materials.
Here are some examples:
4-3-2-1 — The world is out there, ready to explore. Try “4, 3, 2, 1” as a way to tune into your observations, taking time to engage your sense in the natural world. The next time you’re outside, find 4 things you can see, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can hear, and 1 thing you can smell. What do you notice?
Go on a micro-hike — You don’t have to go far away from home to see something new! Shrink down to the size of an ant and see what you can discover in your own neighborhood. Place a piece of string along something you would like to go for a “micro-hike,” such as a flowerbed or some grass at your local park. While everyone is close to the ground, move along the length of string and focus on things you may not have noticed before. Can you find anything moving or growing?
Observation Journal — Observation journals help kids understand more about the world around them and engage their sense of curiosity. By providing them with an opportunity to stop and look, they begin to notice things that they have never seen before. You can even set up an “observation station” in your house or a local park – somewhere that you observe consistently and can watch changes over time! What ways can you communicate your observations?
Providing these simple ways for families to connect with nature gives them enough structure to feel confident in slowing down and engaging with the world around them, no matter where they are! These activities are not one-and-done, but can be continually repeated to notice patterns over time, or to explore new places together.