In today's world our lives have become increasingly disconnected from nature. Cars, TV, the internet and urban living have all slowly removed us from the great outdoors. We no longer know about nature in the same way that we once did - from being part of our day-to-day lives to recognising birds, trees, flowers or butterflies. Though whilst our knowledge may have faded with time, what cannot be lost are the feelings and impressions nature has on you when surrounded by it.
We have seen time and time again that young children have a natural affinity to the great outdoors - an instinctive and in-built love for being outside, from woodland and shorelines, to forests and streams. And in all weathers, come sun, rain or snow! The purpose of rangers - or nature interpreters - in our kindergartens is to nurture and strengthen this bond with nature. They share something unique with the children that is not only educational but a kinship with and connection to nature and the wild outdoors.
The life of a ranger…
So what do rangers do? Most importantly they have a founding love, knowledge and understanding of particular environments and natural habitats. They have a key understanding of the intricacies of nature and ecosystems, from the tiniest plants and insect life to trees, birds and mammals. This knowledge allows them to plan, create and protect these habitats, thus conserving the environment and the plants and wildlife within them. They are also the important link between these environments and us - sharing their love, respect and knowledge to connect us to nature and beautiful wild habitats.
Connecting children to nature…
In our kindergartens this connection to nature is one of the most important aspects that rangers or nature interpreters offer young children. They enrich the experience for the child by giving them important knowledge, explaining and answering a multitude of questions and curiosities about the world they are exploring.
There are two stages to the work our rangers do with young children. Stage one is connection - They allow children to have the time, freedom and space to experience wild spaces for themselves, simply 'to be' in nature and discover the wonders and treasures it holds. Stage two is where the ranger or nature interpreter actively connects the child to a new skill or knowledge such as building dens, creating natural art work or studying the natural world. The combination of these two stages gives children a founding love, connection to and deepening knowledge of nature and all of the wonderful benefits it offers.
Why do we want to send a tribe of mini-rangers out into the world?
Even years later parents have told us that their child still has a special connection to and love for the wild outdoors that does not fade. In fact many parents have said that their child has strengthened or deepened their own love and knowledge for nature - explaining the life cycle of honeybees, habitats of slow worms or how to spot fly agaric mushrooms. Equally important is the affinity with nature and the physical and emotional benefits gained when absorbed and surrounded in it. In our busy, modern lives the therapeutic effects of nature can take root in the souls of our young children, the benefits for which they will reap in years to come.
What anyone can do to be a ranger…
Re-building that connection to nature is simple and the benefits of spending time in beautiful, natural spaces is incredible for the physical and emotional health of the whole family. If you want to get started here are a few ideas to deepen that connection to nature so that everyone can be a ranger…
Be silent - just wander, explore and look without the need for noise. We often feel the need as parents to guide, point out and explain things to our children. But just let them lead the way and appreciate those moments of quiet.
Go to a wild, peaceful natural area - a woodland or riverbank are perfect. Lay down, close your eyes and listen to the sounds all around. Note with your children what you heard. Then look upwards and take in everything that you can see.
Take a magnifying glass or magnifying collection cup to study tiny insect, bug or plant life. Great areas are streams, decaying wood stacks or hedgerows.
Take a wildlife spotter sheet or book to identify plant, insect and bird life in your local nature reserve. Trying to be able to recognize a few common bird songs can also be really rewarding. Woodpigeon, Blackbird and the Song Thrush are all easy to identify.