Nature Bonding for Primary Grades

Connecting with the natural world is vital learning and play for young children.

Nature bonding experiences are vital for preschool and primary-aged children if they are to grow up to be people who take care of the Earth.

"We do not bring nature to life, nature brings us to life."
–Philip Sutton Chard

Since the scientific revolution of the 1600s and then the industrial revolution of the 1800s, the EuroAmerican worldview has set human beings apart from the rest of Nature. This disconnection, this lack of Nature bonding, has acted as a major barrier to ecologically sound and environmentally responsible behaviour, as well as full physical and mental health and spiritual fulfillment.

Childhood is the time for developing empathy for all living things, and young children need ample opportunities to make friends with Nature. They aren't ready for the enormity of today's global problems, but they can care about the birds and small animals in the school yard and care for plants in the classroom or the school garden.

Doing all we can to help children bond with the natural world when they are young will help develop in them respect for life when they are grown and ensure their keen interest in ecology, environmental solutions, and education for sustainable development in the higher grades.

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."
–Rachel Carson

Research published in 2007 by the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario in Reconnecting Children through Outdoor Education shows that children's physical, mental and emotional health, as well as their scholastic achievement, improves with Nature bonding and time spent outdoors, during free play in natural spaces. Think Monday morning walkabouts to see what's changed in the school yard each week. Picture plants in every classroom, and time spent tending the school garden.

Here is a powerful and inspiring video featuring Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle and others:

Children and Nature: Awakening a Sense of Wonder
by Libby and Len Traubman for the Foundation for Global Community.

How to Help Young Students Bond with the Rest of Nature

As a teacher (or parent) of preschool children or students in the primary grades, you can focus on Nature bonding by helping them:

  • make friends with "the rest of Nature" (a term used to include human beings in our concept of Nature when we use the word), extending their sense of fairness and respect to the natural world
  • bond and connect with the natural world, by taking them outside often
  • develop their naturalist intelligence
  • feel comfortable getting dirty and being alone or playing with others in the outdoors
  • learn how to be safe in the natural world (for example, knowing where wasps might build their homes, gently holding branches out of the way for each other)
  • develop empathy and compassion for and literally get to know the other animals and plants in the schoolyard and neighbourhood
  • develop biophilia (an innate love for living things) and reverence for all life
  • learn what it means to live in harmony with the rest of Nature
  • have frequent, undirected outdoor experiences immersed in natural (or naturalized) spaces and wild places ("wild" for young children can be a stand of tall grass!)
  • observe what's happening around them (becoming sky aware, watching the turning of the seasons, exploring "the earth beneath their feet")
  • develop sensory awareness of the outdoors, extending their senses (beyond the usual 5 of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting) to 54 senses — believe it or not!
  • see that everything in life comes from (Mother) Nature
  • start to enumerate and understand all the gifts we receive from Nature
  • express gratitude to the natural world
  • be inspired by the beauty and integrity of nature
  • learn to watch for and observe their animal and bird friends
  • create Nature art
  • read and write stories about Nature
  • play Nature games and do Nature puzzles
  • see the patterns and connections in the natural world
  • connect society's rituals — such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, seasonal festivals — to the Earth and Nature's rhythms and bounties
  • experience where their food comes from, and be part of the circle of life (through schoolyard gardens, plants in the classroom, field trips to a local farm to pick fruit or vegetables)
  • adopt the 3 Rs as a natural ethic (reducing, reusing, recycling — in that order — are more important than ever and must be taught as an ethical behavior that shows respect for the Earth and nature)

Here's another beautiful and meditative video that would be perfect for helping students connect with the rest of Nature during quiet work time in class or indoor recess on stormy days. It's in seven segments:

  1. The Mystery and Magic of Water (starts at 0:00)
  2. Southwest (USA) Meditation (3:53)
  3. Our Nourishing Earth (7:38)
  4. A Day at the Wetlands (10:15)
  5. "The Song that Waits to Be Learned" (including a short interview with Terry Tempest Williams at 16:37 and the poem Ourselves by John Daniel at 19:21) (16:37)
  6. Kinship of All Life (20:56)
  7. Earth's Children (25:55).


Images for Reflection from Libby and Len Traubman

CAVEAT — No Environmental Tragedies Before Age 10

Several experts believe we must help young children avoid learning or worrying about environmental tragedies, which are not developmentally appropriate for them. (See David Sobel's wonderful article, Beyond Ecophobia, which explains that children need time to bond with Nature before we ask them to save it.)

If you've ever seen the look on the face of a young child who asks, "All the animals are disappearing, aren't they?" you'll agree.

Other people, however, are starting to think that the children's sad reactions might be the only thing that will move their parents to action on global warming.

My personal view?
Young children still deserve a childhood.
They need innumerable Nature bonding experiences.
They also deserve a viable future on a healthy planet —
but that should be the worry of us adults.

Go from Nature Bonding (K-3) to Ecological Principles (Grades 4-5/6)

Return from Nature Bonding to Greening the Curriculum

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