Finding Nature in the City | Exploring the Surprising Beauty of the Concrete Jungle

Nature has always been a source of wonder and inspiration for humanity. We picture vast green forests home to diverse flora and fauna, serene lakes reflecting the clear blue sky, and majestic mountains rising to touch the clouds. It is a symbol of balance, beauty, and serenity. I often wonder about how children connect with nature in urban settings. I have been spending time in Brooklyn, New York, and I am delighted to see the abundance of green spaces and the beauty of the blooming trees. I often hear that as our world becomes increasingly urbanized and our population grows, these natural landscapes are dwindling at an alarming rate. As a result, children in cities are at risk of losing out on the valuable experiences and benefits that nature offers. Walking the streets of the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn gives me hope that nature still exists in the bustling streets of concrete buildings. Regardless of the busy lifestyles of urban areas, there is still a thriving interest in connecting with the natural world.

Nature can still be found in the most unexpected places within the city. Nature can thrive and flourish even amidst the concrete jungles and skyscrapers. Sometimes, nature can be a small patch of grass in a community garden, a breathtaking tree-lined sidewalk, or a rooftop garden on a high-rise building. These hidden pockets of nature may be subtle, but they hold immense potential for children to connect with and learn from. This is the first time that I have spent time in NY during the spring. The cherry blossoms are magnificent. The blooms paint the landscape in different shades of pink. The brisk Spring wind shakes the blooms, and they paint the sidewalks with snow-like pink petals. Recreating a scenery that provokes relaxation and inner connections with the natural world. 

Recognizing that children can be in contact with nature in an urban landscape is important to me because I now have a granddaughter who will be living in an urban landscape. I also know that Early childhood educators and families play a crucial role in nurturing a child’s love and connection with nature. Rather than viewing urbanization as a barrier, they can embrace it as an opportunity to incorporate nature into daily life creatively. Children can develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world and its importance by finding ways to bring the outdoors into the classroom or home.

Nature exploration can also be adapted to fit urban settings, making it more accessible and engaging for children. From urban gardening projects to bird-watching in local parks, there are countless ways for children to interact with nature in their city environment. These explorations foster a love for nature and promote physical activity, social interaction, and interactive learning about sustainability.

This blog post will explore how early childhood educators and parents can encourage and facilitate a child’s connection with nature in urban areas. From outdoor play to sensory experiences, from field trips to green learning spaces, many techniques and strategies can introduce children to the wonders of nature in their backyards. Join us on this journey, and let us discover together the beauty and benefits of bringing nature into the concrete jungle.

Why is Nature Important for Children?

Before we dive into the ways of finding nature in urban settings, let’s first understand why it is important for children to connect with nature. Research has shown that spending time in nature can have numerous benefits for children, including:

  • Improved physical health: Being outdoors and engaging in running, climbing, and jumping activities helps develop fine motor skills and coordination.
  • Enhanced mental well-being: Nature has a calming effect on the mind, reducing stress and anxiety levels in children.
  • Increased creativity and imagination: The natural world is full of wonder and endless possibilities, which can stimulate a child’s imagination and creativity.
  • Better academic performance: Studies have shown that exposure to nature can improve children’s cognitive function and academic performance.
  • The aesthetics of nature increase children’s sensitivity to art and beauty. 

Knowing the benefits of nature for children can guide us in discovering ongoing opportunities to be in direct contact with it. 

Finding Nature in Urban Settings

1. Explore Local Parks and Green Spaces

One of the easiest ways to introduce children to nature in urban areas is through local parks and green spaces. These can be found in almost every city, whether a small community park or a larger public garden. Take children for a walk, picnic, or observe the plants, animals, and insects in these areas.

2. Visit Botanical Gardens, Children and Natural Science Museums 

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Pink Cherry Trees in Bloom in Park during Spring Season

Botanical gardens and museums are great places to learn about different plant and animal species while immersed in a natural environment. I recently visited the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, an aesthetically inspiring space. Walking through the beautiful gardens, I felt surrounded by artistic wonder. Everywhere I turned, delicate pink petals swam around me, creating a dreamlike atmosphere. It was as if I had been transported into one of Reiji Hiramatsu’s captivating paintings, with each step I took being a brushstroke on the canvas. My senses were overwhelmed with the beauty and fragility of these blooms, and I stopped and took on their scent and admired their graceful dance. At that moment, I was entirely submerged in a world of art, where even the simplest things held a profound and breathtaking significance. From the radiant colors to the gentle sway of the delicate branches, it was a visual and sensory spectacle unlike any other. As the cherry blossoms bloomed before my eyes, I felt grateful for this exquisite experience.

Children deserve to experience nature interactively and sublimely. Many cities have botanical gardens that display various plants, allowing children to experience diverse flora without leaving the city. Urban gardens, whether community plots or small personal spaces, burst into life with new bulbs pushing through the soil as the warmer weather takes hold. These gardens are a testament to the resilience of nature, offering lush oases that captivate the senses and ignite curiosity. Organize visits to local community gardens. Bring paper and coloring pencils and invite children to capture their experience in the beautiful landscape.

3. Cultivate Curiosity by Joining a Community Garden

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Indian family picking up organic vegetables from house garden outdoor – Vegetarian, healthy food and education concept – Focus on mother face

Community gardening programs are a fantastic way to get children involved and teach them about plants and their life cycles. These programs can be found in urban areas through schools, community centers, or local organizations. Children can learn how to grow vegetables, herbs, or flowers and develop a sense of responsibility and appreciation for nature.  

Urban gardens, whether community plots or small personal spaces, burst into life with new bulbs pushing through the soil as warmer weather takes hold. These gardens are a testament to nature’s resilience, offering lush oases that captivate the senses and ignite curiosity. Organize visits to local community gardens or, if space allows, create a small garden plot for children to tend. Watching seeds turn into flowers or vegetables can provide a profound connection to the cycle of life.

4. Go on Nature Scavenger Hunts

Create a list of plants, insects, animals, or other natural objects commonly found in urban areas and go on a scavenger hunt with your child. This activity encourages children to observe their surroundings and helps them learn about different elements of nature. You can even make it a competition with friends or family for added fun.

5. Incorporate Nature into Daily Activities

Even amid busy city life, we can still incorporate nature into our daily activities. Take a walk through a park to school or work, have a small indoor garden, or use natural materials to create ephemeral art. Moreover, as you pay more attention to the flora and fauna surrounding you, you’ll likely notice the birds flitting about and the insects crawling beneath your feet. Take a moment to observe these creatures and marvel at their agility and adaptability. If you want to take your appreciation of nature to the next level, you can even research their habitats and living habits. Did you know that butterflies have a special sixth sense that helps them navigate and communicate with their mates? Or that birds have different calls for different situations? The more you learn, the more you’ll appreciate the natural world’s wonders.

By incorporating nature into our day-to-day activities, we not only nurture our inner peace and well-being, we also expose children to the beauty and significance of the natural world. From a young age, they’ll develop a deep appreciation for the birds singing in the morning, the vibrant colors of flowers, and the intricate patterns of insect wings. Who knows, they might even become the next environmentalist fighting to protect our planet. So make nature a part of your everyday life – and watch as it enriches and inspires you in countless ways. My daily walks in Brooklyn have connected me to the incredible community in my grandbaby’s life.

6. Notice the Seasonal Changes in the Environment 

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The revival of nature in the city begins with the blooming of flowering trees in the spring. These natural artworks break the monotony of grey, bringing color and life to urban landscapes. From the delicate pink blossoms of cherry trees to the vibrant yellows of forsythia bushes, the city blooms into a canvas of vivacious hues. Encourage children to notice these changes; Point the changes to the children and invite them to touch and feel the flower petals and smell the beautiful fragrance of the different flowers. I was fascinated by the range of smells I discovered on my daily walks around Brooklyn. The sweet fragrance of the wisteria and the intoxicating smell of the peonies. The sights and smells of nature can engage children’s senses and connect them to the value of preserving these urban natural spaces.  

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In the heart of the city, where towering structures dominate the skyline and the hustle and bustle never cease, finding a connection to nature can feel like a distant dream. However, for early childhood teachers and parents seeking to introduce the younger generation to the beauty and serenity of the natural world, urban settings offer unexpected treasures waiting to be discovered. This blog post explores how the hidden gems of urban nature can be found amid concrete and skyscrapers, providing practical tips for those ready to uncover them.

7. Discover Greenery on Every Block

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Even in the densest urban environments, green spaces such as parks, rooftop gardens, and vertical green walls provide pockets of tranquility and biodiversity. Explore these green spaces, turning each outing into an opportunity to discover new plants, insects, and birds. Teach children the importance of these urban ecosystems and how they contribute to our well-being and the planet’s health.

Practical Tips for Connecting with Nature in Urban Settings

  1. Slow Down: In the rush of city life, it’s easy to overlook the natural beauty around us. Take the time to slow down and observe your surroundings. Even the most minor patch of greenery or a hardy tree breaking through the sidewalk can inspire wonder.
  2. Observe the Overlooked: Pay attention to the resilience of nature as it makes its mark even in the most unlikely places. Notice the blooms pushing through cracks in the cement and discuss with children how plants grow and thrive despite obstacles.
  3. Create Nature Walks: Designate regular times for nature walks in local parks or around your neighborhood. Use these walks as opportunities for educational moments, teaching children about the different species of trees, plants, and wildlife found in urban areas. 
  4. Participate in Urban Gardening: Get involved in community gardening efforts or start a small windowsill garden. Engaging in gardening teaches responsibility and provides a tangible connection to the earth.
  5. Utilize Local Resources: Take advantage of programs offered by local botanical gardens, nature centers, and environmental organizations. Many offer workshops, guided tours, and activities designed for children.

By instilling an appreciation for the natural world, regardless of setting, we cultivate a sense of stewardship and connection to the earth in the next generation. Amid the concrete jungle, the persistent heartbeat of nature continues to thrive—we only need to pause, look closely, and listen.

Nature may seem scarce in urban areas, but with a little effort and creativity, it can be found everywhere. As early childhood teachers and parents, we can introduce children to nature’s wonders and help them develop a bond with it. So, let’s make sure that our city-dwelling children also have the opportunity to connect with and appreciate the natural world.  So, don’t hesitate to step out of those concrete walls and explore the green spaces in your city!  Happy exploring!

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