Nature connection is vital in early childhood. Not that it isn’t at all stages of life, but early childhood is the time when our naturalist intelligence is developing most strongly. It is a crucial time where many of our perceptions about nature, ourselves, and the relationship between the two manifest. It is a time where if positive experiences in nature are had, we will perceive nature as a place we want to preserve and if negative experiences are had, nature can become a place that seems scary or somewhere to which we are just apathetic. Early childhood is the time when we decide if we have green thumbs.

A little independence in nature can build a lot of confidence in a 3 year old.

This green thumb perception can be remediated, but isn’t it always easier to do it right the first time? A perception of having a green thumb and positive nature connection is invaluable for a future culture that works to protect the Earth’s biodiversity. It is invaluable for a culture that is healthy and happy. Humans evolved within and out of nature. We are genetically hardwired to love it, whether we are a country mouse or city mouse. We are nature and nature is us.

This is probably the fundamental reason why natural things make us feel relaxed. From a day at the beach to a vase of flowers on the table. Nature is something that our bodies and minds need. We need it as adults and children need it even more. They are constantly working very hard to figure out the patterns of the world, their roles within those patterns, and their place connections.


So much concentration!

In his book Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World Stephen Kellert looks at  the ways nature helps the human brain order and organize the “complexity that confronts us in the natural as well as the human-made world” (6). He speaks about biophilia and the way that our aesthetic attractions to beautiful nature, such a as flower, rainbow, or waterfall actually help our brains to concentrate awareness and organize parts into wholes (7) and how careful attention to these grand objects as well as more average natural items such as a leaf or weed inspire wonder and appreciation (6).


Sensory observation builds aesthetic appreciation and context. Provide place to touch and pick safely.

This is such an important discovery in the world and work of children’s nature connection. When we provide children with regular experiences in nature, we are cultivating an aesthetic appreciation within that their bodies crave to help organize patterns and systems within their world, helping to contextualize their great big world, and subsequently helping the child to discover harmony in her place and contributions.


Big Work! And delicious too!

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you have probably figured out how strongly I feel about using art for strengthening the human connection to nature. So you can see why I would get so excited at discovering Kellert’s work on why aesthetics and nature are hardwired within us! He says that this aesthetic attraction developed to meet our fundamental human needs. For example, we find a waterfall beautiful because it meets our need for fresh water and we love flowers because they represent the potential for fresh fruit (9). How interesting is that!


Hands on! She is making garden fresh sun tea! Let them pick, mix, tear, and taste when appropriate. Then let them draw about it later. You can record any thoughts or words the child wants to express.

So to this I offer, again, the nature journal. Early childhood (0-8) is an invaluable time to have a regular nature journal practice. Journaling in nature helps the child cultivate that inherent need for pattern organization, while also inspiring sense of wonder and positive green thumb associations. It allows a place to document “concentrated awareness,” assimilate experience creatively, and over time reflect on natural patterns and the ways in which we worked within and were affected by these patterns.

I recently contributed a paper on nature journaling with young children to the NAAEE Natural Start’s International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education. The paper is a great resource for information and research on using nature journals with young children to strengthen the naturalist intelligence and help the child develop a “green thumb” outlook to their relationship with the natural world. This is a free peer reviewed early childhood academic journal and I invite you to check out my article to learn more tips to use journaling to help young children connect with nature.


4 and 5 year olds can independently journal at home or school. Offer a chalk board word bank for emergent writers inspired to use words.

In a world so busy and full of information, any excuse to concentrate awareness is a good one, especially if it involves doing it outdoors. And it is never to early to start. Young children concentrate and work outdoors with natural items very successfully when given the opportunity. The Montessori toddler and primary environments are perfect examples of this – using aesthetics and natural beauty to inspire learning. So take the young children in your life outside today and help their green thumbs sprout through artistic nature journaling!

What nearby nature could you bring young children to draw in a journal?

How would you organize it? Let us know in the comments below

Share pics of the journals on Instagram #wingswormsandwonder

Seeds to Sprout:

Download the IJECEE issue featuring my paper “Creative connecting: Early childhood nature journaling sparks wonder and develops ecological literacy” here

Check out Stephen Kellert’s book Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World

Listen to this NPR interview with Kellert on the topic of connecting with nature.
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Mint feels bumpy, smells fresh, and tastes yummy!




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