The Taste of a Tree!

I journey my way through Charlottetown, meeting some of the most interesting individuals with the most profound messages and ideas you could imagine encountering. What do I do? I play with kids in nature!! Over the past month, children in Charlottetown and surrounding areas have had the opportunity to take part in an environmental education program that is designed to support children in exploring, experiencing, and playing in nature.  The activities that these kids partake in are all geared toward creating a strong awareness and connection to the natural world. Each outdoor Wild Child visit over the past two weeks featured a nature themed scavenger hunt. Talk about peeking awareness in young ones… scavenger hunts are the ultimate engagers! Though not all of the children were familiar with the terminology “scavenger hunt”, they were quite familiar with the concept of a scavenger hunt (thanks to the ever-classic Easter egg hunt that most children partake in at some point throughout their “kid-hood”). The great thing about a scavenger hunt is that even when an item or two on the list is nowhere to be found in your surroundings, there is still a learning opportunity inherent in that situation. All you have to do is prompt the children to consider why we might not see those specific items on the list in the particular environment that we are currently in. When this happens, children start to think about different factors that influence surroundings, including: weather, climate, time of day, built versus natural habitat, food sources, etc. These past two weeks have taught me that It can be very valuable for children to NOT be able to find certain items on a scavenger hunt list. I have also found if you (the educator) make an effort and show enthusiasm alongside the children, their natural inquiry and observant tendencies become intensified by yours. Not to mention, it is most definitely doing you wonders to be in the very same state of being that the children are: namely, being engaged, mindful, aware, and present (to name a few).  Another activity that has been complimentary to the scavenger hunt is the classic tree-hugging game. Children love this one. In this activity the children split into pairs. One partner closes their eyes while the other partner guides that partner to a tree. The child with their eyes closed touches, smells, listens, tastes (if they want), and hugs the tree – all the while trying to get an idea of the shape, size, and overall feeling of the tree that they have been taken to. The child with their eyes closed is then guided by the other child back to the place where they started from and has to guess which tree they hugged. They then switch partners.  95 percent of the time the children are spot on in guessing their tree. While this is a great indicator that the activity is working, it is really the process that the children go through to identify the tree that is very meaningful. The children start to experience the tree in a much deeper way than if they were just playing tag outside at recess and running by the tree and maybe hiding behind it, but not engaging with it with a deep awareness or intention. When all of the sense are used to identify the tree, a new experience is created entirely. Understanding and knowledge are elevated, heightened, and broadened. Suddenly the scent, sound, feel, and even the taste of a tree are considered.  Initially it may take some prompting to go outside of the norm and engage with nature in unconventional ways (like tasting trees!), but it becomes a fun, playful interaction with the world around the children when they approach things from a different angle. Of course, it is important to remind the children that they should always ask prior to tasting things in nature because of the dangers that can arise from doing so, but ultimately, what a profound message it is to encourage children to engage with their surroundings in new, fresh ways. For the most part, the children seem to be relishing in this freedom to explore and branch out of their comfort zones and see the world anew!  Of course, some are not quite as intrigued by the opportunity, but at least they are being granted the permission to do so and hopefully they will remember this experience in the years to come and call upon it in the most unexpected of times.