As educators we LOVE to talk about the many benefits nature has on children; they grow happier, healthier, and smarter. What we often don’t touch on is that nature, in turn, benefits from children. How can this be possible you ask? Well it all stems from love, a love for climbing on log towers, watching ants crawl, smelling flowers, building sandcastles, sorting leaves, and more! Experiences in and with nature at a young age helps foster a life-long relationship with the outdoors. As they connect with the natural world around them, children begin to develop environmental literacy and an understanding of environmental stewardship.
An environmentally literate individual is (in a nutshell) someone who has care and concern for the environment and environmental stewardship is taking those informed actions for the well-being of themselves, others and the natural world. These might seem like adult responsibilities but what better way to plant the idea than with nature play! During little ones’ explorations at LEAP we can observe their comfort and confidence grow as they actively learn how to connect, understand and enjoy nature with gentle hands and eager hearts.
Another way many families are supplementing their time in the outdoors is through volunteering! Whether that be at a local park, the forest preserves, or a farm, many volunteer groups and organizations are prepared to accommodate and welcome families with little ones. Volunteering can take on many forms, all that’s left to do is find the one that works best for your family.
Tips for volunteering with little ones:
Contact the volunteer group: confirm accommodations for children.
Dress for mess: volunteering in the outdoors can be messy, make sure to dress in clothes that can get messy or can incur a rip or two.
Dress for the weather: as the weather cools down in Chicago boots, hats and gloves are coming out of storage.
Pack a snack: whether it be for a group break or for the ride home.
Pack a water bottle: some events might involve digging, lifting or walking, make sure to stay hydrated.
It’s highly rewarding to see little ones involved with caring for and protecting the outdoors alongside you, especially if it involves child-size tools and tasks. Once you’ve found a space that works for your family, make it a goal to return to volunteer there again. Returning to the space time and time again, your family’s relationship to the natural space becomes layered with different cherished experiences and memories.
Volunteer opportunities around Chicago:
“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.”
Written by Brenda Rivera