Natural treasures, a game to bring children closer to nature

A game for children to learn to protect and value the natural environment that surrounds them

The illustrator and thinker Francesco Tonucci says that he was made to take out everything he had in his pockets before going to the classroom to enter ’empty of distractions’. This article is precisely a plea to the magic that hides the pockets of children. Those pockets full of witnesses of the outside world, of natural treasures, of elements with history and even with name and surname. It is an invitation to bring children closer to nature and go out to the countryside to create special moments and experiences that, after all, we keep in our backpack of memories.

The importance of nature for children

Many of you probably remember Heidi, that cheerful and smiling girl who lived with her grandfather in the mountains of the Swiss Alps. When the little girl moves to the city, she falls ill and is only cured when she returns to its mountains where her friend Clara’s health also improved in contact with nature. What happened to Heidi is what is called nature deficit disorder – also known as Heidi syndrome – a term coined in 2005 by Richard Louv and which first appeared in his well-known work ‘The Last Child of the Woods’.

A childhood in contact with nature on a daily or very frequent basis is related to a better attention span, emotional and behavioral development and, ultimately, with a personal well-being that has a direct consequence on a healthier lifestyle towards the human being and towards the planet itself.

The proposal that on this occasion I make you begins with going out as a family to nature from that child’s gaze seasoned with the innate qualities that childhood always carries in its backpack of life: amazement, curiosity, creativity and motivation.

Let’s go out to nature with the eyes of the curious and the explorer to enjoy the wonders – some of them somewhat hidden – that inhabit our environment and surround us. Walk as if we were nature detectives, or archaeologists looking for those treasures and relics. It is an activity that can be done in any type of natural environment, be it a forest, the mountain, the countryside, the beach or our nearest park.

The game of the search for natural treasures

How to bring children closer to nature

The game that I propose is very simple to raise; It is about looking for the natural treasures that they ask us. It’s that simple. It’s that exciting. It is an activity that we can adapt to any age, although it may be more aimed at children from two years old (with adult accompaniment) onwards.

As there are many types of searches, we are going to customize ours and we are going to make it something habitual thatwe can do on a monthly basis. If we turn this activity into something monthly, it becomes a habit, something expected and, at the same time, unexpected, because we can vary each month of natural environment and elements to find. Our treasures will be different with the passing of the seasons and locations and our search will also acquire new emotions and intrigues.

In addition, doing it on a monthly basis allows us to naturally observe how our environment changes with the seasons. Understanding the passage of time, climate, changes that occur in animals or plants and understanding that everything in nature is causal and not accidental leads them to understand phenomena naturally and reality acquires meaning.

Nature is a great specialist in showing them that when they touch the cold water of the river, for example, it has a correspondence with what happens in their environment – my hands are cold because the water I touch from the river carries the snow that is melting a little higher – and that brings them closer to deduction, to cause-effect understanding, to exploration and discovery and, therefore, to meaningful learning.

So what we need is a list with our treasures to find in the game, a pencil to mark the ones we find and a basket where we keep the treasures.

An example of the natural treasures your child could find

What I leave here is a proposal of 10 natural treasures to find that you can modify according to the months or ages:

  1. Something tiny
  2. Something you can only find in this season
  3. Something that surprises you
  4. Something new you didn’t know
  5. An item that is hidden
  6. A stick with lichens
  7. A smooth stone
  8. An element with a smell that pleases you
  9. A deciduous leaf
  10. Something that has value for you

 

How to collect our treasures from care and respect

When we start going to nature with children, the surprises offered by nature in the form of flowers, stones or other elements invites many children to want to collect large amounts of treasures. This activity easily limits that amount of treasures. But also, when it comes to finding and storing them, I recommend giving a couple of simple guidelines to accompany the little explorers:

‘Look around you… how much is there of that element, that flower, that stone? If there are few flowers, let’s look in places where there are many more. These flowers are what call the bees and thanks to them this little corner of field also exists and grows. When you see that there are many, approach only the one that catches your attention and ask him if he wants to go with you. There are flowers that will tell us yes, and flowers that also say no. If she tells us no, we leave her in place and keep walking until we find the one who calls us and wants to go with us.”

In this way, we will get our children to collect the natural treasures that we have proposed, always from the care of the environment and respect for the beings that surround us.

Some recommendations for parents

Since the activity itself is already directed, as adults we will try to go to nature respecting the rhythm of search of children, without haste, without stress, without giving clues.

– Let it be an activity that gives them freedom of movement and exploration.

– Let’s spend time exploring and discovering that the search itself provides us. Looking for a treasure we have endless opportunities to learn about many other things.

– The process is more important than the result. If we do not have time to finish our search because we have entertained ourselves looking at dozens of other things … welcome! We can come back another day and complete our search.

– Let’s open our minds to creativity. Probably children will find treasures that according to their criteria correspond to what is asked and according to ours perhaps not entirely. Let’s accompany your process and be creative and flexible. It is very enriching to see an element from different perspectives.

 

And how can we store our treasures at home?

What do we do with these natural treasures we have found? Well, children love to collect and store those things that are special to them, usually because they have a story behind them (a moment, someone important who found it, an activity that they are passionate about …). So I propose you to keep your natural treasures in some special corner of the house where you can go whenever you want. I invite you to reuse materials that are in your homes, such as:

– Cardboard boxes

– Glass jars, which can decorate or write the month to which the treasures belong

– Wooden boxes

– Old metal boxes (we can reuse the typical cookies for example)

Go out into the field. Look around. Search and find. Protect nature and its treasures. Come with a curious look. And enjoy.

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