Tuesday, August 18, 2009

sounds good

Aren't children wonderful the way they just take it all in? They are naturally inclined to use all their senses, all the time. We adults get so used to processing our world through one or two channels, it's easy to overlook all the delightful other ways we can interact with the natural world. Here are a few ideas.

Touch: Not only can we touch things with our hands, but we can try to notice the way different things feel under our feet. The kids love walking around barefooted as much as I do, so we are constantly taking in information about the world through the bottoms of our feet! But how much do we really notice? I've been asking them to really feel the ground, the logs, the grass. Take your shoes off too! What does the sidewalk feel like? How about the forest floor? Can you find a place to stand where you can put one foot in the hot sunny sand and one foot in the cool water of a lake? What's that like? Can you feel with another part of your body, aside from your hands and feet? How about an arm? A cheek?

Sight: When was the last time you laid on your back and just looked up through the tree branches? Or lay on the ground and gazed at the clouds floating by? I'm not just talking about tilting your head back either. I mean this: stop, lay down where you are, change your body's orientation from vertical to horizontal, and look. What do you see? Describe it. Watch clouds for a while. Or watch the leaves dance in the breeze. Your kids will be great at this. Ask them to show you how. Another idea: Lie on your tummy and look at what's in front of you. What's down in the grass? Find five things, or ten, or twenty. Make a loop out of string, lay it down on the ground and discover together what's inside that circle.

Taste: Of course, I'm not advocating that you eat the wild plants you find. (Unless you are hiking with a very knowledgable mycologist or naturalist, o'course.) But--where can you find things to taste outside? We have a patch of mint in the garden and the kids love to grab a leaf or two and munch on it when we're playing out back. They also seem to enjoy licking rocks, don't ask me why. This won't hurt anyone, (although it makes my mother cringe) and I like that they are exploring so naturally using all their senses. (It simply hasn't occurred to them not to) Other ideas: Have you ever tried to catch raindrops on your tongue? When was the last time you ate snow? If you aren't entirely comfortable literally taking in the natural world through taste, then why not try eating more meals outside? Or making a batch of Sun Tea? Let a popsicle melt in a cup and drink the sun-warmed juice. Sunshine has an amazing effect on the taste of food and drink.

Smell: The kids are (I think) lucky to have a mom with a bionic nose-and (yay!) they're starting to comment on the smells they notice outside. It's amazing what they can smell. L can smell the rain coming. J loves to smell the flowers. They both love the smell of dirt. (but who doesn't?) Not so much the fresh tar on the street, or the garbage truck as it drives by. So maybe you don't have a bionic nose-how can you encourage your kids (and yourself) to notice more of the world of smell? Next time you're on a walk, challenge yourself to smell ten different things (or let the kids pick the number)-be they plants, fence posts, your neighbor's wet dog running past. Just notice things, or actually make a point to stop and sniff.

Hearing: In the city, especially, it's easy to get used to tuning out sounds. In my neighborhood, there is car traffic as well as almost constant air traffic-a lot to tune out. It's often hard to pick out anything else. But, we love to try. We listen in layers: What do you hear besides the cars? Besides the planes? We close our eyes and listen. (Closing your eyes really does help! It shuts out the other stimuli) They can pick out the birds, the dog barking down the street, the kids playing on the slide nearby. What else can you hear? I ask them. They can pick out the water lapping on the shoreline, the wheels of a stroller. Try this sometime: Go someplace. The park, the forest, your yard. A street corner. Close your eyes. Put up one finger for each sound you hear. You don't have to identify it. In fact, if you make an agreement that you don't have to know what the sound is, it may help you hear more sounds. How many can you hear? (Note: I have found that this is also a wonderful way to "get centered" when I'm stressed out. Brings me right back to the present moment.)

Got any fun sensory games to share? I'd love to hear 'em.

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