Message in a Backpack ™ Nature Play with Sensitive Children
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Spending time in nature is a great way for you to encourage your child’s development, relieve stress, and, perhaps most importantly, have fun together! But what happens when your child is sensitive to touching natural objects? Use these ideas to spark indoor and outdoor nature play experiences you and your child can enjoy together.
Read books about nature together! This is a wonderful way to build and enjoy an emotional connection to nature with your child. Start with simple stories featuring natural objects or environments familiar to your child. Books like Wave, by Suzy Lee, or A Walk in the Forest, by Maria Dev, allow your child to think about nature without the stress of touching.
Share what you notice in nature from a window or door. Point out changes in the seasons, the weather, a squirrel running across a power line, or a puddle that has frozen over.
Create a collection basket of natural objects for your child to explore if they wish. Stock the basket with “nature treasures” that have some significance to your child (e.g., the shell Grandma brought from the beach, the flower you found together on the way to the mailbox, or the stones Uncle Sandeep brought from the museum).
Bring little gifts to your child that you find in nature, such as a smooth chestnut or a colorful leaf. These found treasures cost nothing but can be just as delightful as store-bought toys and teach children to value nature.
Go outdoors! Plan to spend as much or as little time as your child needs to feel comfortable. Having a task—like planting a seed and watering it every day—can direct your child’s focus away from challenging feelings and allow your child to feel a sense of purpose in the play. Read the book The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, too!
Capture an ant or worm and keep it in a clear jar for the day so your child can observe a living thing on the go. Discuss how the ant or worm might be feeling. Be sure to set it free when your child is finished observing! This teaches compassion and responsible stewardship.
- Be aware of your own aversions. Even if you are squeamish about bugs or certain textures, try to use describing words rather than judgment words when talking about nature. For example, rather than “Yuck! Get that bug away from me!” try saying, “The tiny bug is crawling on the leaf! Maybe it’s looking for food.” Modeling positive language and behavior, spending time together, and creating this emotional connection with your child will go a long way in supporting your child’s nature play endeavors.
Photograph: © Getty Images
Becky L. DelVecchio is a doctoral student and researcher at the University of Massachusetts Boston and an adjunct faculty member at Great Bay Community College, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Susan Ferguson is a lead teacher at the Wellesley College Child Study Center in Wellesley, Massachusetts.