During an age when technology takes the frontline of our lives, being indoors becomes a more-than regular place of existence and entertainment for the children of today. When we, as adults, become disconnected from our natural world, so the opportunity for our children to be able to be in touch with nature is a direct offshoot of our own disconnect. Having spent hours with children on safari at Londolozi I have come to understand and appreciate the value that nature provides to old and young- but particularly children- irrespective of background, nationality, age or language. It provides countless opportunities for discovery, innovation, problem-solving, skill development and creative expression.
Natural Born Explorers
Each child is a natural-born explorer and scientist, with an innate desire to fully engage with his/her environment using all senses in order to learn and experience life around them. We encourage the children visiting Londolozi to take part in the Cubs Den ‘programme’ in order to facilitate these deep inner experiences, from the varied activities that the children engage in, surrounded by nature.
“The child has a different relation to his/her environment from ours…. The child absorbs it. The things he/she sees are not just remembered; they form part of their soul. They incarnate themselves all in the world about them that their eyes see and their ears hear.” Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori’s quote explains my statement that each child is ‘a natural-born explorer’. While we as adults can instantly feel the effects of being in nature on our emotional and mental health, it is even greater in children as the sensory experiences provided by nature gives the child the opportunity to connect their inner world to their external world. There is an immense sense of well-being that is created internally after being outdoors – this is an enormous benefit for children allowing them to connect with the natural environment.
Using All Senses
Learning happens as a result of complete engagement with the surrounding environment, using all senses. The Londolozi Cubs Den offers a variety of in and outdoor-based activities, all encompassing the idea of expanding and enhancing children’s personal knowledge, connection and ability to relate to the natural world around them. We feel connected to our surroundings when we are able to freely interact with it; walking, swimming, feeling, smelling, touching and creating things from fragments of it.
The children’s senses are stimulated through a variety of activities in the wilderness; through feeling the textures of the water when jumping in the puddles and swimming in the pools, through smelling the various grasses and the rain as it falls, through collecting the different shapes and sizes of seed pods and leaves for nature-printing, through mixing colours to paint their favourite insect or flower, through feeling the sensations of the bark on the trees during tree-climbing.
These sensory experiences aid in the child feeling connected to the world around them, and sparks interest in the creatures that inhabit the natural world. When this happens, a seed is planted and the child will begin to feel a sense of care and empathy to the natural world and it’s creatures. A larger sense of responsibility will be encouraged to take care of what is around him/her.
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.” David Sobel.
The children are offered the confidence of choosing varied activities that are available at the lodge, weather dependent, and they are each offered individual attention during each. The opportunity to learn new skills and express themselves freely is always encouraged- through a variety of outlets, such as archery, fishing, arts and crafts, painting, obstacle courses and track moulding. The children’s sense of confidence is boosted through being given the opportunities to operate their own fishing rods during fishing expeditions with rangers and trackers, as well as during the infamous post-dinner smores around the fires, where each child can roast his/her own marshmallow to their discretion. Burnt and crispy or light and gooey- the choice is theirs to use and enjoy. These all work to initiate a sense of peace and happiness through meaningful engagements within the open air while in a beautiful environment.
While these activities are fun, simple and engaging, it is also important to note that these direct experiences with the children’s surrounding environment is helping them to form intellectual concepts through exploration, and developing neural pathways within the brain through their actions and movements. These areas of development cannot be taught to the child but have to be learnt through his/her own experiences within the sacred childhood timeframe.
The children’s intellect develops through asking questions, noticing details and beginning to subconsciously understand ‘cause and effect’- how skimming stones across the river creates ripples, how stepping into the sand creates footprints, how stacking smooth flat stones onto of one another allows them each to balance without falling down etc. Without awareness, they are beginning to explore Engineering, Science and Maths through their immersion with the natural environment and create concepts of understanding. Who knew that outdoor learning could be so fun?
Some of our nature walks include collecting natural treasures, in order to do nature printing or make hanging mobiles. The children are encouraged to collect stones, sticks and leaves, and create little people, creatures, or stack rocks to make sculptures, encouraging them to use shapes, textures and colours to innovate. They look at the smooth, hard, soft, rough, flat, rounded, and other aspects of the natural materials, explore quantities and are able to explore how each can be used in order to create something different. All through these creative and concrete activities, the child’s imagination is being developed and harvested.
“Imagination is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein.
Story-telling has and always will be a large aspect of Londolozi and how we outwardly share our visual interpretations and experiences with one another. Stories are created and told about the animals, trees, stars, creatures and other elements of the wilderness are passed down through times around the camp fire and during the daily activities. The children are encouraged to share their own stories and highlights from the bush, which becomes part of their own assimilation of outward experiences during their bush time. They are encouraged to draw stories and sightings, and share them through their own words and perceptions of what they saw and felt.
While fantasy is based on make-believe experiences, imagination is harvested as a result of concrete experiences. The most precious experiences that we can give our children are those submerged in the natural, unspoilt world. When these real- life experiences are meaningful, they create an impact and stick in a child’s memory bank. They foster a sense of desire to revisit the natural spaces in order to feel at ease with their place amidst the world.
“The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.” Maria Montessori.
Movement is an enormous part of involving our children in meaningful activities. Every cell in their body is pushing them to develop through movement and it is how they physically interact and connect with the environment around them. With our children experiencing a large percentage of screen time and less time outdoors in today’s busy lives, we feel even more passionate about taking our Cubs Den children outdoors in order to have fun in the fresh air. We embrace this inner urge to move on a small and large scale, and use it to channel the children into fun activities that not only keeps them engaged and fulfilled, but also works to enhance their physical well-being that comes through movement. The children are taken on walks, engaged in obstacle courses, archery, tree climbing, swimming and playing soccer games. Their gross motor development is encouraged through these walking, running, hopping, climbing, jumping, lifting and stretching movements.
When feeling more creative, the children’s fine motor skills are engaged through fun art and craft activities- usually themed around the animals of the bush, insects, flowers, trees or other favourites. Painting and drawing, using charcoal, paper mache, making masks, mobiles, and even mixing ingredients together to make fresh chocolate chip cookies are among the variety of creative outlets that provide the children with freedom of choice, expression and boosts a sense of happiness. When a child feels safe and unharnessed in a creative space, positive self esteem is created. Nature-inspired creativity is among the most powerful of all; there are no bounds to what can be seen from the patterns in the wild and how we can create our own. The children become engaged for hours with messy hands and happy hearts as they concentrate on what they are painting and creating, without instruction or interruption.
“Let the children free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning.” Maria Montessori.
Nature is our greatest and most profound teacher. It provides a framework for our children to play, grow, learn, move, explore and express themselves freely. It creates a sense of wellbeing that is more peaceful than any other kind, and evokes a sense of connection and deep understanding to the world around them. When this occurs, the magic happens. Children are not separate from the natural world, they are part of it. When they begin to understand this connection, they feel desire to care for and protect the inhabitants of the natural world. This is powerful, as we work to continuously evoke a deep love and appreciation for our natural world, as well as the responsibility to protect its inhabitants for future generations to come.
We look forward to spending time with your little people in the wild !
Thanks Sam for reminding me about my childhood experiences in nature and the outdoor world. Still love fishing and walking.
Sam what a beautiful and inspiring blog for the children. It is true that children must learn everything they can from nature, learn to appreciate it and protect it. Using their senses helps tremendously and those feelings will be remembered forever. So much to learn from nature and the wild animals, will give a child firm footing for the future in the lives.
Sam, as an adult, but a“child-at-heart”, I would love to spend a bit of a day on my next visit taking part of in some of these activities offered to Cub’s Den participants. Casting a paw print 🐾,; collecting leaves, stones, sand; squishing sand between my toes on the riverbank…. I’m sure these activities can be arranged as there’s nothing that Londolozi can’t accommodate within the reserve as long as it’s safe and ethical. See you next year.
Sam, Thanks for the special story about kids at Londolozi! Even though they are older now, our children still talk about their time at Londolozi and the Cubs Den! Their adventures were amazing, and the things they learned (like making paper out of Elephant dung!) and their time with the Den team were so special. Now we look forward to introducing our grandkids to the magic that unfolds at Londolozi every day! Can’t wait!
It is certainly a wonderful experience for those lucky children who can come with their parents and enjoy Londolozi. It is even more important, I think, that parents teach their children every day at home how important nature is and that they should appreciate it and care for plants, animals, water and the air in their normal lives as well.
A really nice blog Sam. It is good to have children learn about their surroundings and also the value of preserving our habitat and wildlife. I am sure that all kids that visit Londolozi will leave with awesome memories of their visit. Thanks for sharing with us.
It is wonderful to “eavesdrop” on children returning from a game drive or the den. The sense of excitement and wonderment is so obvious.
We hope you are doing well, Sam!
Hi Sam, this reminds me of a David Attenborough quote – “I can’t remember a time when I was not fascinated by nature. I would say that nearly all children find wildlife interesting. You only have to show a child a snail or a spider to see that he or she is captivated by it. So of those that lose that interest with the onset of adulthood, I can only ask “How on Earth did you let it happen?” “