Deepening the Young Child’s Connection to Nature

As it follows it’s yearly path around the sun, our earth goes through significant changes: changes that appear and reappear, year after year.  The seasonal changes bring to life countless metaphors for the ups and downs of human life on earth.  In New England, the passage of the seasons is particularly marked, giving us pictures of deep contrast.

As many cultures have moved away from a nature-centered and nature-dependent lifestyle, we have lost touch with some of the inner strength that can be gained from engaging with Mother Nature’s transitions.  Each season has a mood to share: from the joyful rebirth of green in spring, to the energy and purposeful work that autumn harvest requires, to the reflective quiet of winter.  In Maine, we are fortunate to experience each season in it’s fullest sense.  Even the despair that can be felt in March, after a difficult winter, is a lesson for the soul.  For each human life is bound to meet with despair and longing.  When we allow these moods to be felt in our connection with nature, we can see them as universal experiences.  The knowledge that spring will return allows us to know hope, and that hope can return to us during more personal struggles.

Nature stories can bring to life the shifting moods of the seasons and let them feed the imaginations of our children.   These types of stories nurtured the imaginations and moral sensibilities of young children for hundreds of generations before books, television and computers were available.  These metaphors, which live in the imagination in childhood, can later become a source of wisdom, giving strength long after childhood has been left behind.

Seasonal festivals also connect us to the wisdom of nature.  It is an enormous gift to young children to be able to recognize and share the observations they make of the changes in nature.  We can weave seasonal nature stories into celebrations, using food, song, and special activities to create a mood.  A sense of security and joyful anticipation develop when a child is able to revisit a celebration year after year with their community.  Though singing the same songs, hearing the same stories, baking the same foods, and celebrating again nature’s revolutions, children’s inherent connection to Mother Nature is strengthened and nurtured.

At Merriconeag Waldorf School, we celebrate many festivals that might be considered old fashioned or unusual.  Some festivals are celebrated more simply in the classrooms, or in certain grades, connected with particular cultural studies.  Then, we have several school-wide festivals we return to again and again, allowing our students the chance to contribute in different ways as they grow older and more capable.  Each of our festivals is characterized by this understanding that nature has much to teach us.  By paying attention to her, we also learn about ourselves.  Our festivals allow us – all together- to stop long enough to recognize and celebrate this connection.