By Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore
One year in early spring, my friends and I headed out for a camping trip in Algonquin Provincial Park in northern Ontario. This park is a great place to find a vast wilderness of lakes, hills and trees.
After arriving one evening we quickly set up camp, ate dinner and then headed out for a hike before it got too dark. This hike took us to a great lookout point where we could sit on the rocks and look out over this vast wild place and watch the sun set over the horizon. Dusk set in and we started out for home. All of a sudden, we came face to face with a big mama moose and her baby. This was my first time standing so close to such a big animal. In that moment I knew we had to quietly sneak away before the mama moose decided to charge.
What is your nature story? Everyone has a story to share about an experience they’ve had in the natural world. Maybe it is a story about a camping trip and an encounter with a wild animal. Or perhaps it’s that time you got turned around on a hiking trail and soon your short walk turned into a much longer and more epic adventure.
We’ve all had adventures out there in nature and our stories are just waiting to be shared. Stories are what help us share our experiences and form a connection to those experiences. Nature has a way of enhancing stories by setting an exciting scene for our stories to take place in.
Children especially love sharing their nature stories. I’ve never visited a class in which I didn’t hear a handful of stories all somehow related to our topic of conversation—spending time in nature.
Sometimes all I have to do is ask the question: what do you love about nature? The hands start shooting up with stories of camping adventures, the first time they saw a bear, the time they caught a frog with their bare hands, or how they built their first fort in the forest and then went looking for wild berries. Each child has a story of adventure in the wild that they are eager to share. Some are factual and some are full of imagination. All are a reflection of what they experience and dream about in the natural world.
When others take the time to listen to our stories, we are grateful. I want to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for the opportunity to listen to these nature tales. It is very fun to hear about children’s experiences of searching for wild animals and exploring unknown places.
When children express themselves through creating their own stories, they build on their knowledge of their experiences with the natural world. Sharing our experiences through a short story at the end of an outdoor exploration session is one of the best ways I’ve found to consolidate the learning and provide time for reflection.
Often we gather everyone together in a circle and pass around a talking stick. Students take turns sharing something about the time they spent in nature. I usually prompt them with a question to get them started. What did you see? What was something new that you experienced? How did you feel when you were out exploring? The seed has been planted here and this is just the beginning of a story forming in each student.
I encourage teachers to continue exploring ways of sharing these experiences and facilitating the development of new stories that can be shared in the future. Taking your students outside helps spark their interest and curiosity about the natural world. This in turn can lead to storytelling as a form of expression and reflection about nature.
Creating new and exciting experiences among the trees in a forest or visiting the beach and being able to observe, play and explore in nature are all great starting places for supporting creativity and language development. I encourage you all to take your kids outside and then invite them to share their nature stories with others.
You never know how much a story can make an impact and leave a lasting impression.