Thursday, August 25, 2011

Appreciating Adventures in Nature

As a child, I would LOVE it when a teacher would say, "Close your books and get your jackets. We're doing class outside."
"YAY!!!," we would all respond. Out we would go to take a walk, stopping to observe and answer a few questions. Usually, when we returned to class, most of us were calmer and more focused. Some of us, maybe, stayed a little keyed up, (okay, so it was me and my friend Joey.) BUT, we really did get much from the experience, given our learning styles and sensory needs.

At home, my mother loved to take walks and do activities in Nature. Although she kept an immaculate house, she was the first to say, "Housework can wait. It's too nice out to be inside." So, out we would go for walks. She was quite pensive and inquisitive, often observing objects we found for longs times in silence. For my chatty self, it could be a bit much...the silence piece, yet what she taught me through her model was Peace. There was something in this outdoor experience that deserved a silent, centered awareness and appreciation. Mom also had a thing for trash...she recycled long before anyone around us did...and she wrote letters to companies complaining about their continual development of "individual" and disposable packaging. She couldn't imagine where all this "trash" would go if they did not develop recyclable packages. She was quite ahead of her time given she was born in 1935. She had us do park cleanups through her woman's group and church. Mom encouraged me to join a volunteer group as a teenager which studied freshwater ecology and did clean ups in watershed areas. She taught us how to be creative with objects we found in nature, and we made many crafts. She even created something she called Pebble Pets, which were stones we found, cleaned, glued together and painted to make various objects, characters, etc, long before Pet Rocks were the craze. We sold these creations at fundraisers for church and other outreaches.

I am so thankful for what she shared with us and taught, since it evolved in me, to be the basis of the work we do with kids on the Autistic Spectrum through HeARTs for Autism and Happy HeARTs Yoga.

Today, with my own children, and with kids in our outreaches, I love to share the "great outdoors" with them. Arts and crafts give us a wonderful way to share Nature with the kids and families. Yoga, especially outdoors, is such an incredible experience. This summer, we had the good fortune to do Yoga and Art with children and families at Nature Centers. What a perfect place/space to educate! The tradition of Yoga comes from the early yogis observing and mimicking Nature. The expression of breath, mindfulness and postures, in concert with natural rhythms, is a powerful healing experience, which also educates on so many levels through integration of the senses and knowledge.

In the picture, you see my kids enjoying a day in Nature. Throughout the summer, we would go on hikes exploring different parks. Sometimes, we did yoga, other times storytelling, other times we would "play" with math and science as we interacted with our surroundings. Mind you, this was mixed with kids being kids: sibling bickerings, being hungry, being hot, and sensory issues for the ASD child, but overall, it was a good experience.

If you are interested in an Adventure in Nature, it can be as simple as just taking a walk and then doing a nature break of "being" still for 30 seconds, open to whatever your senses notice. When home, you can discuss what you "found." Or you can mimic the sounds, draw a picture, make a clay creative, as you facilitate expression of what the young people discovered.

Or, you can plan the trip to include science activities, like cataloging the plants, birds, insects, etc they see. They can measure objects found, then use math to determine differences in size or use geometry to explain relationships. Tell stories and act them out. Learn the history of the area...teach the art of how to ask a question and then find the answers. Bring art tools: pens, pencils, markers, paints, paper, clay, etc and have the kids recreate what they notice.

For special needs children, consider whatever their specific condition is and tailor activities to meet their needs. For my son, given the ASD and Sensory issues, I involve him in various ways with the siblings, adjusting plans which cause too much anxiety. On the other hand, I encourage him to step out of his comfort zone to try new things. The siblings help me with conversation skills, and it can be a good thing to watch how they decide to interact and take care of each other.

For this trip, I had them each create a Field guide. We took some plain white papers, folded them in half and then stapled the booklet. They decorated the front cover with their name and whatever else they wanted. During our day, we would take breaks to record our findings. Very interesting, what each child recalls, or rather chooses to share. The daughter was most elaborate with her drawings and listings. The youngest boy, had to take a while to process and didn't really do anything with his Guide until dinner time, when he wrote a detailed story about the experience, including illustrations. The oldest, was more interested in asking Asperger type questions about things that interested him, and acted as if he was going to "die" if he had to write anything down. Then again, writing is difficult for him; Not the thought process, but the actual holding the pen and having to focus that way. We decided he could take pictures and share with us that way. And then we used the camera to photograph moments we wanted to remember and certain objects of interest.

Many skills were in play that made for a great adventure, and the Field Guides focused their involvement to create an enjoyable, educational experience as well.

Fall is coming...what a great time to try an Adventure in Nature! Let us know how it goes and what you found on your journey...