Updated: Jun 13, 2022
So your child is showing interest in frogs, what do you do? Get into some sensory play, of course! Building nature connection doesn't have to look like a walk in the wilderness.
Like I said, building nature connection doesn't have to look like one of those Instagram posts that quotes "Not all who wander are lost" (don't get me wrong, those images definitely catch my eye). The biggest myth that I've noticed in people's understanding of nature connection if that it requires vast, open wilderness and looks like someone sleeping in a debris hut and starting a fire with sticks to cook the wild game they killed with their hand-made bow and arrow. False. (Yea, I'm a big fan of The Office). So, let's talk about how we can authentically cultivate our child's interest in something like....let's say frogs.
These are frog eggs. You can tell the difference between frog and salamander eggs by looking at their structure. Frog eggs resemble tapioca pudding, whereas salamander eggs are encased in a gelatinous sphere.
The spark is where it all begins. As parents, caregivers, educators -- no matter what title we hold our role is the same, we are observers and researchers. It is our job to observe the spark, the demonstrated interest, and either hold space for our child to fully explore that interest or build upon that interest. E and I went for our usual walk the other day, but this time something caught the corner of my eye. A dirty, dried up frog egg mass. I released E from the Ergo carrier and plopped her down in the grass close to where I found the egg mass, talking about this experience the entire time. Then, I simply brought the egg mass over and held space for her to explore with her senses.
Now, before you scream at your computer about how ridiculous it is for me to let a BABY explore frog eggs, let me really set the scene. I NEVER let my child or any other child explore something that I do not feel is safe. I am all about creating YES spaces and giving children the space to fully experience nature....when it is safe to do so. That means knowing what plants and animals are safe to interact with, and how to set up a safe and developmentally appropriate interaction. In this case, I needed to set up a space with a few criteria: 1. let E fully explore the egg mass without harming it (though dried up and likely no longer viable, I was not sure and wanted to be able to return the eggs to a nearby vernal pool) and 2. let E fully explore without harming herself (i.e. taking a big ol' chomp of frog egg goo). So, I held the egg mass and guided E in touching it while reminding her to be gentle. We watched as I lightly shook my hand and the egg mass wiggled (E thought that was pretty silly). And finally I scooped her up as I returned the eggs to a nearby vernal pool. Every step of the way I talked about what we were doing, what I noticed, and asked questions (even though I knew I wouldn't exactly hear an answer). That was the spark.
The next day I wanted to remind us of the spark with some sensory play. As a naturalist, nature-based educator, and now Mama, I love me some Toob critters. I try to buy native, local animals and bring them out when seasonally relevant. Since I had some frogs and chia seeds readily available, I was ready to set up a frog egg sensory bin. Here's what I used:
Toy frogs (try to find the ones without holes as those are prime for mold build up)
Large, rectangular RubberMaid bin
Recycled yogurt and salad green containers
Things I might add in the future/when E gets older:
Plants (real or fake)
The set up for this is incredibly simple and the only prep work is soaking your chia seeds in water. Once you do that, you're good to go!
I set up the big bin and then added a smaller version in a recycled greens container to make everything really accessible for E. This caught her eye, brought her in, and then
she really started to show interest in the big bin. Pretty soon we were ready to throw on the swim diaper and hop right in!
Overall E really enjoyed it and, again, it couldn't be easier! Rather than talk about frogs, eggs, life cycles, and all of the other natural history information I could think of, I held space for E to follow her own sense of wonder. We don't need to always direct the play and sometimes it is better for us to be quiet and step back (as hard as that can be to do).
I usually let my chia seeds soak much longer than I did this time (Mama needed an activity, I know you all can understand that). I'd recommend letting them soak 4-8 hours before using them. But, the nice thing is that I just threw a table cloth over the bin to keep leaves and the raining caterpillar frass (poop) out, and we can check it out again tomorrow.
As I mentioned above, I can think of tons of materials to add to this sensory bin. If you have older budding naturalists, consider asking them what they would use in a frog pond!
Don't Overthink It, Just Play
This was such an easy way to build on a direct experience with nature, but I think it is important to remember that not all experiences require adults to offer something to enhance or build upon the experience. In this case, I needed something a little different to do on a hot Monday afternoon. Nature connection isn't about capitalizing on every outdoor adventure, it is simply about getting outside and having some fun.
Want to dive deeper into frog eggs, check out my video on the Nature Time channel. Let me know what you've been using for sensory play, what you've noticed on a recent nature walk, or ask me a question about expanding on a nature notice in the comments below! Be sure to subscribe to stay up-to-date with Among the Ferns, At Home.