Connecting Children with Nature: Interview with Wendolyn Bird
by Aidan Young
This interview was a blast for me. Wendolyn Bird is an expert in nature connection for young children and a delight to talk to. Jon Young also weighs in with wisdom shared from his visits with the Kalahari Bushmen. You can jump right into the interview below, or read on for a little story of mine that I find useful in priming my brain for this conversation.
Listen online or download the audio (show notes continue below):
It was one of those February days in the Bay Area that make me grateful to live here; close to 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We had just finished harvesting the chickweed from the shady side of the meadow. Now the winter sun cast across the field at an angle that belied its warmth and settled across our picnic blanket. We sat with a handful of 5-year-olds, and their mothers, and it was time for a story to go with our lunch.
My co-instructor pulled out the book “Over In The Meadow,” a book I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. Together we sang: “Over in the meadow, in the sand and the sun, lived an old mother turtle and her little turtle one. “Dig,” said the mother. “I dig,” said the one, and they dug all day in the sand and the sun.” As I sung I was 5 again, and I could hear my mother’s voice singing along with me. I remembered her warmth as I snuggled next to her and I couldn’t help but smile at the little ones in front of me, cuddled up with their moms. In that moment, I knew exactly how they felt. Maybe they will remember that moment in 30 years when they sit down to read to their children.
As that little boy in my memory, my imagination blurring the lines of reality, I became the turtle. I can still feel the sunshine on my shell as I write this. Imagination and imitation have an incredible power to involve all of our senses and etch experiences into our brains in a way that intellectual discourse seldom does. It is in this space that children under 6 live most of the time. When I pretended to imitate a deer or a fox, I could almost feel my ears or my long, bushy tail.
When engaging with young children they are much more likely to follow you than listen to you. They are in a space of imitation, imagination, and experimentation. They are ready to become a crow, a lizard, or a ninja turtle at a moment’s notice, but not so interested in facts unless those facts are playing out in front of them in a way they can experience directly. I’ve seen a young child lay perfectly still on their belly next to a gopher hole because we just saw that gopher come out a moment before. But when I told them about the gopher hole the week before they couldn’t care less. They want to be where the action is.
Believe it or not, there was a time in your life when you didn’t know what time it was, what day of the week it was, when your next deadline would be. There was a time when “present” was all you could be, even if what you were present to was totally imaginary. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, babysitter, or family friend, if you’re planning to spend some time with 5-year-olds, I would ask you this: can you remember a moment in your own childhood like Over in the Meadow? Maybe there was a day you spent in your back yard creating a little village out of sticks and leaves, or that time you became your favorite singer and had a concert in front of your mirror. Whatever it is, if you can let your inner 5-year-old out, you’ll have a blast.
I believe that it’s more important than ever with this age group to make sure that we care for our own state of being before engaging. In order to create a space where these young children are free to explore and experience the world around them, we have to be in a space where we be present, playful, inquisitive, and supportive. And, knowing they are in a place of imitation, we must be careful to bring our best energy to each and every moment.
Wendolyn and Jon share some great insights into this experience, from the perspective of both child and mentor. I enjoyed digging in with them and I hope you do too! Thanks for reading. - Aidan
Listen to the Podcast:
Interview Outline and Show Notes
0:00 - Introductions
0:58 - Jon: background and history with Wendolyn
2:50 - Jon: history and background of nature connection
11:24 - Wendolyn: nature connection
14:55 - Wendolyn: the young child’s mind
19:24 - Wendolyn: nature as the classroom
21:13 - Jon: Nature connection and the importance of modeling and mentoring
35:09 - Wendolyn: Parents’ expectations and understanding, learning to ground
43:48 - Aidan: grounding, mentoring, and modeling
46:50 - Aidan & Wendolyn: hazards and developing awareness
50:33 - Wendolyn: supporting development and learning
52:53 - Wendolyn: observation and meeting children where they’re at
54:52 - Aidan: need for being grounded to enable mentoring
55:35 - Wendolyn: on grounding
57:27 - Jon: on grounding and inner tracking
60:07 - Aidan: grounding, and what are you bringing to the moment? The value of gratitude routines
63:40 - Jon: the words before all else
64:52 - Closing thoughts