Nature and the Environment: The Child's First Classroom
Children love to splash around in water, make mud pies, and watch bubbles. Throughout the preschool years, as children experiment with their environment, they gain firsthand knowledge about it.
As children develop physically and emotionally, their understanding of their relationship to the world around them increases. One- and two- year-olds are avid observers. They learn about the world through their senses: by smelling (and maybe occasionally tasting) the soil, listening to the wind, and feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays on their faces. Children of this age love to experiment with textures: by swirling a stick in the muddy puddle, running their hands over the rough texture of a stone wall, or playing with a silky tuft of grass.
Three-, four-, and five- year-olds continue to be interested in the sensory aspects of their environment but at the same time become interested in their causes and their effects. They wonder, What will happen if I mix this with water? What will happen if I blow on this pinwheel or hold it up to the wind?
In their experiments with the elements, kids are also refining their thinking skills. During the preschool years, children begin to understand similarities and differences and then to learn to categorize. Preschoolers discover that certain creatures are called animals, for example, and that some animals are birds, and others are fish and others mammals.
Six- and seven-year-olds are less awed by nature but are better able to see how the world is connected and interdependent. While to school-age children, the land, sea, and sky are mostly backdrops to their happy outdoor play, such kids are developing an appreciation of ecology and the need to protect their “scenery.” Children at this age are beginning to understand that pollution in the river affects the fish, which in turn affects people, and so forth. Once they understand the connection, they become more interested in making a positive impact on the environment through conserving and recycling.
A deeper understanding of the environment helps children to appreciate that they are part of a larger world, and to recognize and value their place in it.
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