Iseult Catherine O'Brien
Montessori Teacher & Supervisor | Volunteer Tutor
NATURE IS EXTRAORDINARY!
Given a little crack in the pavement, a buddleia or a sycamore will struggle to the light!
Just because Winter is settled in, I believe parents, guardians, and carers (PGCs) should not halt walks with small children but rather, as often as possible, head out with enthusiasm.
Daily walks are best, when possible.
These are part of the child’s playtime, exercise, education, and socialisation,
and it is important to keep them up so that a child continues to meet the people
and see the objects known to him or her.
people have private gardens, particularly in inner suburbia and inner city living, but that does not mean that the rest of us should be denied the glory of Nature in
Autumn and Winter and the chance to share its beauty and wonder, and knowledge of it, with children of all ages. We just need to
get organised, booted, well-padded, and insulated.
Hats that cover the ears and waterproof, insulated, gloves are essential, so are scarves for some, as some children and adults do not enjoy the cold air in their mouths
or noses, and youngsters won't know this until they discover it outside. If the temperature is very low, everyone should be wearing waterproof, insulated gloves, and these can be bought in sports' and outdoor activities' shops at reduced prices during
the Summer sales. Wear t-shirts with short or long sleeves, maybe two, under your fleece and outerwear.
I should be inclined to give a smear of Vaseline, or another such product, on and around the mouth and nostrils of each child, to prevent skin chaffing, if it's really quite
windy or cold. Also, if the noses start dripping because of the cold, the skin is protected. A packet of handkerchiefs always comes in useful.
Things may get quite slippery under foot, and we should tell children this in a matter of fact way,
saying "hold onto my hand"; even older children may take advantage of the offer, possibly hanging onto a belt. Keep the advice about the paths possibly being slippery due to frost or snow, low key, we don't want children going outside feeling trepidation
~ this is an Adventure! This is all a part of Autumn / Winter!
Depending on where you live, Autumn can be the most beautiful season of the year:
the colours; the scent of loam; the crunch of leaves underfoot; the taste of blackcurrents or other in season fruit.
Teach the children the names of the five senses well in advance, and let them learn examples at home from
the aroma and taste of cooking, the feel of silky scarves, the colours of everything!
There is evidence that some children are not learning SPATIALLY, as they DO
NOT GET ENOUGH TIME for real physical play, to run, and to be children, free, for at least three hours a day of exercise, however the school and the family manage to fit it in.
Please see Section
PHYSICAL AND OTHER CONSTRAINTS IN SCHOOL AND THE CONSEQUENCES, in my Post, 'Child's Life Balance', containing the comments
of Rae Pica, a highly regarded Early Childhood
Author, Keynote Speaker, Consultant, and Broadcaster.
In Autumn on slippery leaves, and later in Winter in light frost and ice, before we may be looking at really deep snow, it's a VERY good SPATIAL exercise to try keeping balanced on two feet when negotiating slippery pavement, other pedestrians, kerbs, steps, and other
everyday things which take on a new significance as a thing to be got around, over, or between.
There will be sliding and slipping on some days, and even adults can land on
their posteriors! Make sure everyone knows that slipping and falling are part of what happens, and just to take care as much as possible.
Sometimes, in the busyness of life, we miss the obvious on our doorsteps.
Autumn and Winter, it's best to take things slowly and take in the altered surroundings. Trips with new walkers, or children who have not experienced more challenging conditions in reality, can be quite short at first, but still full
of interest and novelty. One hopes all the walkers have footwear with good grips or cleats on the soles.
Once out the door and onto the path, the sense of hearing may be the first one to be engaged. Even as the first foot plants
itself on the path, a crunch may be heard. Naturally, everyone looks down to see what went 'crunch'. It could be a little ice or a layer of snow. When that foot is lifted, check to see if the design of the
sole has left its mark!
The fuel emissions from most passing vehicles, which are discharged at around the height of a young child, have to be considered. PGCs have to balance the level of harm to young children from fuel emissions
against the benefits of wonder and learning, plus exercise, which children experience on their walks around the neighbourhood.
The Dublin City Tree Strategy 2016-2020 is
to be found at the end of this Article, and it gives a great deal of attention to the health benefits of trees in cities: including absorbing pollution; protecting from UV
light; enhancing mental health; reducing flooding. The Strategy document would make one wish to fight for the trees we have, and insist on more being included in all developments, public and private.
The health benefits of trees are
extraordinary ~ particulary in city living.
is an opportunity to stop and notice: to recognise any shrunken flowerheads, berries, or leaves that may remain, and to try to guess what a shrivelled specimen used to be in its Spring or Summer glory. On any piece of wasteland, you
shall see the drooping, dark, rather gloomy, eerie, heads of buddleia,
which blossomed so brightly in various shades during Summer.
Thistles give dramatic silhouettes, in their many sizes and shapes. Also visible are the teasel heads, which have grown to ten feet tall, or more. In
Winter, their beautiful, tiny, mauve flowers have long blown away, leaving a tall, majestic plant, with a beautifully shaped flower head. Please mind the stem - it has spikes or spurs which might tear fine gloves, or scratch your fingers.
A small child is at a perfect height to have a very good look around the small patch of earth at the base of any tree one comes across, seeming to
grow out of the pavement. Given enough time to get focused, the child shall notice the smallest ants, centipedes, millipedes, possibly the odd glimpse of a worm, and many other tiny creatures going about their business.
These are all part of the diet of our fellow urban dwellers, blackbirds and robins.
If it's not too cold to take a glove off for a few minutes, the child should have an opportunity to stroke the bark
of the tree, compare it to the feel of Summer bark, and decide if it is like previous experiences of smooth, bumpy, rough, or cracked. It
does feel different in Winter, because the ice in tiny pockets of the bark make it smoother than at other times of the year. Have a go,
what do you think?
Don't forget to look up! The smaller branches with sparklings of ice or snow, make an elegant latticework. Nature has always thought of it first ~ beautiful!
Keep listening ~ block out the sound of traffic and concentrate - can you hear birdsong? Blackbirds have one of the most recognisable warbles of all songbirds. Some birds, like
blackbirds are often stay-at-homes. Red-winged blackbirds in northern North America winter in the southern United States, as far as about 800 miles from their breeding ranges.
Flocks of migrating Scandinavian birds may arrive
in Scotland and find food and milder conditions there. However, harsh weather in Scotland may drive the hungry birds to fly further south, to escape the constantly lowering temperatures in northern climes, and some of them may arrive
in a garden in Ireland to feed under a bird table or on the many Autumn fruits and berries that are still very plentiful. They may carry on to North Africa if Ireland is experiencing an unusual, very harsh, Winter.
What fortitude they have.
Most birds that migrate to warmer climates do so because their diet
is mainly of nectar, which is unavailable in Winter. Birds that live on berries and insects found in or under bark, and in the soil, are likelier to stay.
If the family has a book on local flora and fauna, with colour photographs and sketches, which can be
got at very reasonable prices, you, as a family, can identify the bird and animal life, the insects, and all the trees, plants and weeds in your neighbourhood. Weeds are only plants in the wrong place! You might wish to download an app to
your mobile to identify plants when out and about.
Go to this link to discover why leaves change colour in Autumn earthsky.org/earth/why-do-tree-leaves-turn-red-in-fall.
Neighbours and passers-by would be greeted by the PGCs which the child will have experienced from previous walks,
he or she may be spoken to directly by these locals. The
young child has started his or her general social interaction, learning how to get to know new people, and how to greet them. In Autumn and Winter,
it's much more likely you'll stop and have a quick chat about the weather, and maybe hear some local news.
Children should be told from
the first day out in Autumn and Winter, as with every season, and reminded every day, as they get ready to go outside, that they can look at everything around them, ask any questions, ask
to stop to examine anything interesting looking, but never to pick something up off a pavement, from the grass or ground of a playground, a park, or from a puddle, pool, or stream, be it an naturally occurring object, or man-made.
A simple explanation that there are 'bad types of dirt' should be sufficient for the early years. Discussions
on germs and cuts, and the basics of first-aid, can be had later. As long as a child is well aware not to pick up anything without pointing
it out to the responsible adult first, things should go fine.
When the child is older,
he or she shall be listing for you the safety rules to be followed!
As soon as they get home, have taken off their layers, washed their hands, and taken
a drink and snack, the child and adult can take out chunky crayons and paper, and remembering what they saw, draw the plant life, the glorious and vibrant leaf colours, insects, and the bark of the trees.
Maybe some of the branches of trees had a glisten of ice or snow;
how would you draw ice?!
Plus, he or she may have made a first ever footprint in snow or ice. If so, perhaps you would clean the sole of the footwear,
produce some poster paint, and help the child cover the sole using a piece of old sponge or a rag to help pat the paint evenly onto the sole. Choosing an A4 printer sheet of paper, or anything that suits you, you plant the boot or shoe down firmly and
hold it steady in place for a few moments before lifting it off, while holding the paper down.
With luck, you shall have a perfect copy of the mark left in the snow. Write the date of this 'great step' on the paper, and if the child can write his or her name, have it appended when the paint has dried, otherwise,
you write the child's name on the sheet.
Poster paint wipes off very easily with a damp cloth.
Perhaps, you could use a double page sheet of the day's newspaper, and put a few different
coloured prints down, in a curving trail.
This would be an important record on the child's
bedroom wall, placed at approximately one metre / three feet above floor height, or whatever height suits the child's eye level.
This was a BIG adventure for a 12-18 month old child, and older. He or she would be full of news of the walk and
who they met and spoke to, and have the drawings and maybe a foot print to show, and to tell about and show whoever comes in that evening.
As the child grows, he or she shall become a strong walker, fitter than many children of the same age. Walks will
become longer, opening new vistas, expanding experiences, and broadening the information base.
From easy to detect colours during Spring, Summer, and Autumn, when the child learns the names of the nettles, daisies, thistles, blue speedwell, dandelions,
and buttercups, and will notice changes in leaf colour of the various trees in the neighbourhood in Autumn, learning their names, and the types of trees. Winter
offers more discreet colours, but there is still plenty going on, one just has to look more closely.
If you do look closely,
you'll see that the seed heads and dried and shrunken flower heads are beautiful shades of burgundy, claret, aubergine, olive green, deep red and russets and rusty!
Have a look at your local flora and fauna book, to prepare yourself
for what you may find, which you can show to your child. The more you and the children know what to expect, the more exciting and informed your discoveries.
LEVELS OF LEARNING
Such a child will be learning in a visual, aural, tactile, sensual, spatial, kinesthetic, and intellectual way, about Nature in his or her world, and also learning a great deal more on a social and a subliminal level.
This is a very rich experience for any child and, indeed, for the accompanying adult.
The sensations felt on the face and hands, through the seasons, as the child
interacts with weather and Nature, grows in strength, knowledge, and appreciation of beauty and the cycle of life, are gifts that are never lost or forgotten.