When you recall your childhood memories of place, think about what you did while you were in that place. If that place was nature-based, chances are you created adventures, such as building forts, and made connections with the local flora and fauna and other living things that shared that space. Today, not every child has access to the outdoors or an interest in engaging in this type of play or creating these memories that last a lifetime. David Sobel (2008), in his book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators, outlines a research study conducted by Wells and Lekies (2006) that interviewed 2,000 adults and found that:
Childhood participation in “wild” nature such as biking or playing in the woods, camping, and hunting or fishing, as well as participation with “domesticated” nature such as picking flowers or produce, planting trees or seeds, and caring for plants in childhood has a positive relationship to adult environmental values. “Wild nature” participation is also positively associated with environmental behaviours in adults (p. 10).
Is this not what we want for all children? As early learning teachers, ideally we want children to have positive relationships with the environment when they are adults too. Sobel (2008) wrote about an environmentalist, Robert Michael Pyle’s, connection to a “weedy watercourse” that had been his sanctuary and playground as a child. “While not growing up with privilege, having access to this place which was essentially a ditch helped him to learn to care for the land as it gave him an up close, ‘intimate contact with a particular patch of ground’ where he learned to respond to the earth, to see that it really matters” (p. 10). Sobel (2008) identified that the problem is “that not every child has a ditch, or if they do, they’re not allowed access to it” (p. 11). This is where early learning teachers ensure that children have access to nature so that their childhoods can be one where they develop a deep and ever-lasting affection for a place. From this place, they will become stewards of the environment.
Sobel (2008) found after conducting countless “observations of children in all kinds of settings, with children of all ages and in a number of different cultures that certain recurrent patterns emerge” (p. 19). Based on Sobel’s findings, early learning teachers benefit from interweaving play motifs into their practice as principles of design when offering children access to nature.