Santa Clara Open Space Authority landscape photo

Start Early & Encourage Early Childhood Interaction with Nature

In recognition of National Arbor Day, Teri Rogoway, educational programs coordinator for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, shares nature’s impact on children’s development.

April 28, 2021
  • Start Early Stories
  • Early Learning and Care
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Santa Clara Open Space Authority outdoor class photoTeri Rogoway’s love of nature started early, with her own mom. “My mom taught me from a really young age that nature was a gift and that we could be better people as a result of interacting with nature,” she shares. “I’ve always had a positive experience in nature and I wanted to give those kinds of experiences to other people.”

As the educational programs coordinator for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, Teri helps children engage with nature from an early age. “We do stroller walks with parents and infants and toddlers, where we let the kids play outside and make things out of twigs, rocks and leaves. I never tell them what to make, I just let them create,” she notes, which helps build creativity skills that follow them into their later years.

Engaging parents is key to increasing young children’s exposure to and appreciation of nature. “You want parents to feel comfortable being out in nature because children watch how their parent responds. If the parents are afraid, then a child might pick up on that fear and carry it with them through life,” she explains.

Nature’s Impact on Early Childhood Development

Children participating in nature walk withSanta Clara Open Space AuthorityThroughout her career, Teri has seen the benefits of engaging children early in nature. “Parents who go hiking with their child in a baby backpack, let them play in parks, climb trees, rescue worms and jump in puddles are building up their child’s immunity and increasing their motor skills,” she shares. “Those kids, who have been encouraged to play in and explore nature, are less fearful, more creative and know how to calmly interact with other people.”

In addition to nature’s impact on children’s cognitive development, Teri also sees mental and emotional health benefits for parents. “I want parents to feel the healing, peaceful aspects of nature that they can get away even if it’s just to a little neighborhood park or a vacant lot with wildflowers.”

“Nature is big enough to take anything that we have to give any stress or worry. Kids will respond to their parents being less stressed and spending time in nature also creates beautiful family memories that they can look back on.”

Virtual Programming during the Pandemic

During the pandemic, Teri and her team pivoted to provide online programs via Facebook Live and Zoom to continue to share the benefit of engaging in nature. “Our team gave live virtual trail tours showing people different plants and animals while they answered questions like, ‘Susie from Oakland would like to know what that green flower is called to the left.’”

She saw the benefits for her staff who also missed the in-person interaction with visitors and one another, “We were so grateful to be able to do that and help others and ourselves fight that sense of isolation, it felt like we were fulfilling our purpose.” The park is now open for in-person visits with COVID-19 precautions in place (e.g., one-way trails with social distancing) and is seeing an increase in visitors.

As we celebrate National Arbor Day and parks continue to open, Teri encourages us all to head outdoors: “Nature is where we belong and the place we go to for healing, peace and restoration. Give yourself permission to enjoy time outside for yourself; we work so hard but remember Mother Nature is there to give back to you.”

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