Over many years of being with kids in nature, I have noticed that scale is a nuance to their experience and their development. While older children may focus in on an industrious project in a particular area, like digging a hole or building a dam, they also are more likely than younger kids to stop and look at the horizon or notice mountains in the distance. They might wonder about a far-away feature of the landscape, feeling compelled to go there. In contrast, I find that little children will often plunk down wherever they are, start playing, and range over only a small zone, seeing many tiny details of it but rarely looking up and out. Over the course of several hours, they are often content to stay in one area, gradually deepening and elaborating whatever themes and explorations they have been involved with.
As these phases seem to be innate to child development and a form of nourishment for them, this is something you can play with on adventures with your child–both in terms of what is instinctive to them and also what might offer a new perspective.
Here are some ways of honing in on a smaller perspective:
- Take magnifying glasses along.
- Make fairy/elf/gnome houses and create tiny worlds.
- Dig up some soil to put in a bowl, or scoop some pond water into a jar. Check out the different organisms crawling or swimming about. This is particularly fun with a field guide – I often use various Golden Guides.)
- Play a game called “Small World.” Each person uses sticks or some other material to mark off a small area of ground, about a square foot or so. Then they lie on their bellies and imagine being ants traversing the space, letting their eyes range over the area that has been defined. This is often a way to bring oneself into the quiet mind and a state of amazement, noticing things that you may never have even known existed
Some activities that can broaden perspective include:
- Hike a local mountain. For those in the Seattle area, we are lucky to live near the Cascades, which have many excellent trails. A book of hikes, such as 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Including Everett, Bellevue, and Tacoma can be an invaluable resource for easily scanning through options and discovering new possibilities. Please do note that many local trails require a Discover Pass and some require a Northwest Forest Pass for parked vehicles.
- Look at a map! I personally really like one called Washington Recreation Map, published by Benchmark Maps. You could even put one on a wall in your house and, if it has the right backing, gradually put pins in marking your home, important places, trails you’ve hiked or natural areas you’ve explored, ones you want to check out, etc. This can really help you and your child begin to put together the big picture of your area. What watershed do you live in? Where is the closest lake? What is the source of your drinking water? What is the closest natural area? What is the closest mountain peak?
- Make a map. This could be a one-time thing or even something that is added to over time.
- Work with a map and compass. REI offers a class in this.
- Visit a new ecosystem. In Washington, we are blessed with temperate rainforest, rock bars/sandbars, ocean shores, meadows, grasslands, riparian areas, wetlands, prairies, dry coniferous forests, estuaries, shrub-steppe, and sand dunes. What is it like in these places? What kinds of creatures live there?
Working with bigger and smaller perspectives affects our awareness and appreciation for nature. It can be magical to look closely at the bark of a tree and realize there are worlds within worlds occurring right there, with miniature forests of mosses, lichens, fungi, and liverworts. It is amazing to gaze at a majestic range of snowy peaks from the top of a mountain that it took you hours and hours to climb. Track how certain perspectives and scales are nourishments to your child as they grow, and how your own experience can be enlivened by an appreciation of both the minute and the grand.