So yesterday afternoon, while GeekBaby was theoretically napping and actually watching The Secret World of Arriety, I was reading this article on how children interact with nature. (h/t Mrs. Miller @ Family in Feast and Feria)
It was an interesting article on a number of levels. First and foremost, it reminded me of my old childhood. When I was six, we moved from the suburbs of St. Louis to the deep country, where us children, promptly and enthusiastically, ran wild. We picked flowers, (infamously) played in the mud, hunted for fossils and arrowheads, caught turtles and frogs and lightning bugs, built forts, made tunnels and dens in the tall meadow grass, buried treasures, climbed on whatever was available, and played bizarre fantasy games of our own devising. Reluctantly we participated in some of the un-fun tasks of gardening, shoveling snow, and even working on the house which was in varying stages of completion the entire time we lived in it.
I was immediately seized with the desire to improve my son's experience of the natural world, so I waited anxiously for GeekBaby's movie to finish, and then dragged him outside to “go exploring”.
GeekBaby, like Queen Victoria, was not amused. At least not at first. He warmed up to the idea eventually. Once we got out into the greenway, I made him lead, and he set off in the direction of the (currently empty) retaining ponds. We found some dirt and tried to draw in it, but it was too dry and hard. Then we found an area full of mats of dried grass cuttings from the last time the greenway was mowed, so we threw big wads of grass at each other for a while. Then we found a tiny blue butterfly, and tried to catch grasshoppers until we reached the edge of the retaining pond. There we saw some sort of white wading bird which I later identified with Peterson's as a cattle egret. It flew away before we could get very close. We sat on the rocks (really smashed up chunks of concrete!) there for a while, then headed over to the creek. The creek is pretty low right now, but we went right down to the edge where we saw some fish and two turtles sunning themselves in the shallows. We walked along the bank scouting out rocks for crossing places, then came home.
It was very interesting to observe him and how his behavior changed over the course of the walk. He started out very reticent, he didn't want to play and I had to gently guide his attention and encourage him to observe and interact. He's the same way when we're camping, we've never had problems corraling his inquisitiveness on the trails of national parks.
But by the end of the walk he was exciting about 'exploring'. He had acquired a new rock (a smaller chunk of smashed concrete) for his collection (also mostly smashed concrete). He found a golf ball in the tall grass. He jumped across the little ditches in the greenway instead of calling for me to help him get across. And after dinner he bragged to all the neighbors about how he went 'exploring' with mommy.
Even more interesting was watching him on our walk this morning. Yesterday we found some big rocks that I thought we could use to cross the creek. Just on the other side is a public park with a playground. We don't have space in our yard to install a swingset, our subdivision doesn't have a playground, and there isn't one anywhere in a safe walking distance. There are a few a couple miles away, but you have to cross busy streets and there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. The park on the other side of the creek has one of those playgrounds. Technically we have to drive there, because of the creek. But he wanted to go across those rocks, and so this morning we went.
When we got down to the rocks, he decided they were too difficult for him to get across (they really were), so I hoisted him up on my shoulders and we went across that way. On the other side we had a steep hands and feet scramble up a hill to reach the playground, but we made it! He played, I tried to blog at a picnic bench, and all was well until it was time to go home for lunch.
We had to go back down that hill. I told him to let me go first, so if I fell, I wouldn't fall on him… and I did fall! The grass on the slope was dry and slippery and my sprain is still pretty weak – I fell on my bottom and slid the whole way down. And GeekBaby, instead of freaking out, laughed, sat down on the grass, and slid down right after me. He wouldn't have done that, even yesterday!
It's a very small start, but it's a start.