Early Education: Learning From Nature
Children Learn When They Play
Recently my daughter attended a fabulous summer camp near the Bay Area shoreline. Everyday the children explored the marshlands surrounding the camp, discovering hidden gems during low- tide and salty plants around the trails. It was the perfect place to send my little naturalist and it showed in her smile whenever she recapped the day's events.
My daughter was especially excited when she discovered the camp would be celebrating Mud Day. She counted down the days, mentally marking off the calendar in her five-year-old brain. I did the same, but instead of marking off the days, I mentally checked off the list of supplies she would need on that special day- extra shoes, extra clothes, a large towel, a large plastic bag, etc.
Mud Day arrived quickly and it was everything my daughter expected and more. Even my Preschool Teacher mentality never anticipated the full extent of Mud Day. The children not only played in the mud, they swam in it. Mud found its way into little ears, inside pants and turned white socks into grey sponges. Camp counselors became active participants, rolling around in the mud with the children until they too had to be hosed off at the end of the day. It was a sight to behold and my parent brain shouted with delight, "Yes, I found the perfect program!!!"
So, the next time you cringe at the thought of Mud Day or hide in fear when the natural world seems to take residence in your car, consider this, playing is messy. When you invite messiness into learning, it increases the complexity and opportunities for children to solve problems and figure out how the world works. Activities such as this provide a wealth of cognitive growth by incorporating hands on experiences with sensory stimulation (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, etc.). Acquiring new information in this way is effective for children's new learning and for building on familiar concepts. Most importantly, children can take the lead in these experiences, directing their own style of learning. There is no right way to use mud. It can turn into anything your imagination conjures up. The longer and more often you play with it, the more delighted you are with what you discover and create.
Consider this as well, mud is universal. All over the world children play in mud. The more we know about the things we have in common and share with people everywhere, the more likely we are to understand and care about each other.