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Contact with te taiao helps tamariki learn about the world, develop their observational and critical thinking skills, and feel connected to their environment.

Tamariki enjoy the natural world. They explore and collect, poke and prod. They find insects, spiders, caterpillars, worms and sandhoppers, and rocks, stones, shells, seaweed, driftwood, plants and leaves.

In recent times, however, tamariki seem to have less opportunity to get outdoors and explore because adults are more worried about safety and things like strong sunlight.

Tamariki benefit from contact with the natural world

Being outdoors in nature helps tamariki to learn about and make sense of the world, hone their observational skills, extend their critical thinking skills, and feel connected to their environment.

Tamariki can:

  • learn the correct names for animals, plants and other natural things
  • observe and care for insects, plants and animals
  • learn about food sources and that kai doesn’t ‘begin’ in the supermarket
  • see how some food is purposefully planted in gardens and grown from seed, and some grows in the wild naturally from seeds spread by the wind, water and animals
  • learn that not all plants are edible and some are even poisonous
  • think about how to keep safe near water, and that rivers, streams and moana need to be respected
  • identify different trees, birds, fish and shellfish.

How adults can help

Adults can help tamariki stay safe when they're playing outside by making sure they're appropriately supervised and by teaching them about things like 'stranger danger', road and water safety, and sunburn.

Keeping safe out and about | Whānau Āwhina Plunket(external link)

Adults can also:

  • encourage tamariki to explore using their senses – looking, touching, smelling, tasting and listening
  • ask them to talk about what they see
  • help them to collect and explore
  • provide containers and places to keep things safely
  • find books in the library about the natural world
  • help tamariki use a magnifying glass to look more carefully.

Adults can also ask open-ended questions like:

  • What can you see?
  • What do you think is happening?
  • What do you think it is?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What if we…?

Other resources

How caring for living things helps kids build empathy | PBS Kids: for Parents(external link)

Nature is everywhere – we just need to learn to see it (by Emma Marris) | TED talks(external link)

Exploring nature with children | Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai(external link)

Exploring the natural world | DuPage Children's Museum(external link)

Get out of the classroom and into nature: The importance of nature play in child development | Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center(external link)