By Meike Vangerwen
Family Care Office & Faculty Relocation Services Information and Communications Officer
What better way to celebrate Earth Day, than to take the time to slow down and observe the beauty spring has to offer? And who better to do it with than the child/ren in your life?
When I worked as an early childhood educator at the University of Toronto’s Early Learning Centre, I was always amazed by the ability of young children to collect and share natural treasures. There were many days I would leave work with a small stick or stone in my pocket that had been gifted to me.
Research says nature is good for children of all ages as well as seniors . However, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to find nature in an urban centre like Toronto. My father is an avid naturalist and drove our family all over southern Ontario for walks in the woods and mushroom hunts. These early experiences have had a direct impact on my own interest in looking at nature where I can find it in the city.
Here are some simple activities to do with your child/ren as you move around the city this spring.
Getting to Know a Tree
Pick a tree or bush you pass regularly and observe what changes happen over the next couple of weeks. Ask your child to share their observations with you; what do they notice about the tree? This is also a fun activity to do through the seasons to see how the tree changes or doesn’t. You and your child/ren will be in for a surprise if you already know where a blossom tree is. Magnolia, cherry blossom and redbud trees are currently blooming and can create beautiful photo opportunities.
For older children, you can help them learn tree terminology by identifying trees commonly found in Ontario using the Tree Atlas or a plant identifying app.
Consider documenting how the tree changes by taking a photo of your child with the tree each time you visit. It might be fun to see how your child grows too!
Nature Scavenger Hunt
Another fun activity is a nature scavenger hunt. Create a list of common nature items in your neighbourhood and let your child/ren take the lead on finding the items. Consider using pictures instead of words for a child who is non-verbal or who is not reading yet. Look here for ideas on natural items to look for in the city. While many scavenger hunts focus on using the visual sense, don’t forget to include items that will activate the other senses as well (smell, taste, touch and sound). This blog post offers a free printable for a Sensory Nature Scavenger Hunt. Find inspiration on how to make your scavenger hunt more challenging for older children. For example, “find a bug you can name” is more challenging than “find a bug”.
Nurture your budding naturalist by providing them with a space or container to store collected treasures. When my nephew was young, he picked up a stick every time he was out for a walk. My sister placed a bucket on their balcony for his ever-expanding stick collection to live. When the bucket was full, he had to figure out how to make space for new sticks (as in, he had to thin out the collection). Where can you go collecting? Toronto is home to approximately 1500 parks and greenspaces. Pack a blanket and find a space where you can spend time in nature, add to your nature collection and help nurture your child’s ecoliteracy.
This Earth Day in Toronto
This Earth Day, take the time with your family to appreciate the wonder of what nature has to offer. Start with your child’s curiosity and observe their interests to connect with nature. Especially when there is so much simple beauty blooming in spring!
Toronto is a city filled with rich language diversity. Do you or your children know anyone else who speaks a different language than you? Try asking them the words their language has for Spring!
Earth Day is April 22. Looking for ways to recognize the day with your family? Here are some ideas:
- Don’t Mess with the Don Earth Day Clean Up (April 22)
- Earth Day at Downsview Park (April 23)
- Earth Day Community Clean Up at the Arsenal Lands in Mississauga (April 22)
- The Street Market at Scarborough Town Centre (April 22 & 23)