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Getting to know nature

WHEN should environmental education begin? In Primary One or kindergarten? The answer is – earlier.

Environmental education, based on life experiences, plays a critical role in shaping life-long attitudes, values and patterns of behaviour toward natural environments.


I.S. Shanmugaraj, head of the Malaysian Nature Society’s education department, says: “Young children learn about the environment by interacting with it. So, educators and other adults must attend to the frequency, nature and quality of child-environment interactions during their early years.

“Many kids have limited opportunities for such experiences. In fact, regardless of where they live, they spend most of their time in settings, or engaged in activities, that keep them isolated from the natural world.”

Recreation tends to be indoors (such as watching TV); they go around in cars or other motor vehicles, and programmes at day-care centres – where many children spend most of their waking hours – tend to be oriented more towards the classroom than the outdoors.

“The result is that many young children are at risk of never developing positive attitudes and feelings toward the natural environment, or being familiar with their environment,” Shanmugaraj adds.

Where to begin

Start with simple experiences. Young children learn best through experiences that relate to what they know and are comfortable with. Thus, start in an environment they are familiar with. For example, focus on a single tree in the backyard or playground before venturing into a heavily-wooded area.

Provide frequent positive experiences outdoors. Because children learn best through direct experience, they need to be immersed in the outdoor environment to learn about it.

Frequency is important. A one-off trip to a park or nature reserve would have limited impact on young children. Provide on-going, simple experiences involving trees, flowers and insects in environments close to home or school rather than spend time and energy arranging for day trips to unfamiliar places that your child would seldom visit.

Experience nature together

  1. Planting flowers, trees, grass, fruits and vegetables teaches children more than just how things grow; it also educates them about the weather and why plants need soil, water and light. Remember to teach them about the changes in the plant as it grows, too.
  2. Go on a bug hunt. Give your child a food jar and encourage her to look for natural life around her. Look under leaves and stumps (be sure to turn them back over), and on tree trunks, leaves and flowers. Handle bugs gently and let them go when you are done. Name your favourite bug according to its colours or the way it moves.
  3. Play eye-to-brain coordination games. Before a visit to a park, have your child decorate two toilet paper rolls. Staple them together to make mini binoculars. Use that in a game of “I Spy” and look for things around you, or a distance away.
  4. Get a new perspective. Have your child lie face up under a tree. Can she see the top branch? What patterns are obvious? What else can she see? Or, have her pretend to be the roots of the tree. What does it feel like to be in the soil? What animals can she see around the tree?
  5. Use imagination. Choose an area with natural ground cover such as leaves, cones or wild grass and sit down. Give your child six short pieces of straw or toothpicks. Have her pretend to shrink down to the size of an ant, then get her to lead other creatures of that size on a nature walk. Get her to describe six interesting things along a one-meter stretch of ground.
  6. Discover colour in Nature. Get 10 swatches of paints of various colours from a paint store. Cut these into squares and head for the playground. Get your child to look for things that are of the same shades as the paints. You will be amazed at the colours around you.
  7. A night-time experience. Go with your child to a safe park at night. Cover your flashlight with red plastic so you won't startle any creatures wandering around. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust from bright light to darkness. What do you see at night that you never noticed in the day?
  8. A rainy day experience. Dress to stay dry but keep your hands free (no umbrellas) and step out into the rain with your child. Peek into puddles or listen for frog calls. Can you find plants with a drip tip? Try to find out where animals go when it rains.
  9. Feed their growing interest. Children learn through discovering their surroundings, and Nature is their best playmate. Their young brains are able to process what they see and they learn to understand and identify with their surroundings.

    Thus, it is important for parents to provide the essential nutrients to help their children develop better eye-to-brain coordination, that is, the brain’s ability to process information gathered through vision.

Children need a large amount of fatty acids found in milk and some types of food to develop the brain and eyes, especially in the early years. Nutrients such as Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA), Arachidonic Acid (AA), Choline, Taurine are important as they help promote cognitive, visual and psychomotor skills.

With the right nutrients that boost eye-to-brain coordination, your child is ready to expand her world, hand-in-hand with Nature. – Article courtesy of Abbott Nutrition Malaysia

Source: The Star (published On August 16, 2007 - Thursday)




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