I Belong Here

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Nurturing a sense of place in kids

Sense of place. Have you heard this phrase? I have heard many people referring to “sense of place” recently. Teachers, early childhood educators, friends and co-workers are talking about place and its relevance to their work with children. Sense of place features strongly in classrooms throughout the province, as students work to understand their connection with local environments. Although it is new terminology to me, the concept is familiar.

Dr. Thomas A. Woods, president of Making Sense of Place, Inc., provides this definition:

“People develop a sense of place through experience and knowledge of a particular area. A sense of place emerges through knowledge of the history, geography and geology of an area, its flora and fauna, the legends of a place, and a growing sense of the land and its history after living there for a time.”

Many adults recall places in their childhoods. Close your eyes and think of locations that were important to you growing up. Was there a little creek you loved exploring? A favourite tree or place to build a fort? A backyard where you played with friends? A grandparent’s home or school playground? What memories do you attach to these places? What significance do they hold for you? Chances are that you have strong emotional connections to special areas from your childhood. Emotional attachment associated with these experiences give places meaning. We all hold special connections to places.

A sense of place does not just happen. It takes time and effort. If you have ever traveled or moved homes then you know all about this. The more time you spend in an area, the more deeply rooted you become to that region. Repeat experiences provide the opportunity to gain more familiarity and help create a history. You can look back and have fond memories of events or interactions. The way we perceive these places influences our well-being, how we describe and interact with a place, what we value in a place, our respect for nature and other species in that place.

Why is sense of place important? These are just some of the reasons:

• establishes knowledge of and appreciation for nature

• supports the development of personal identity

• inspires greater independence

• inspires stewardship

• nurtures empathy

• nurtures connections with friends, teachers and members of the community

• improves mental health

• improves physical health

1. Start with the nature right in your backyard.

2. Inspire a sense of wonder by observing with children and asking lots of questions.

3. Have fun with some nature crafts and activities.

4. Let children explore their surrounding nature. and discover their own special places.

5. Start a nature journal or scrap book.

6. Make a map of your yard, street neighbourhood.

7. Copy a map of your town and draw pictures of places on it.

8. Write a poem about a special place.

9. Talk about the significance of local places.

10. Learn about the history of your town.

11. Read stories about the area you live in.

12. Frequent your local museum and nature centre.

13. Enjoy playful experiences outside.

14. Learn the names of local plants and animals.

15. Find a favourite natural spot and visit it frequently throughout the seasons.

Children need to foster relationships with places; specifically, relationships with places that have the complexities found in nature. These early relationships with special places create memories that adults may draw upon for a foundation and a sense of self, well-being and belonging.

Helping people connect to natural places is why I love working as a CRD Regional Parks Naturalist. Whether belly laughing while doing the slug dance at Devonian Regional Park or quietly admiring the 500-year-old giant Douglas fir trees at Francis/King Regional Park, these experiences all help me and others develop a sense of place.

If you are new to the Victoria area, or have yet to discover our regional parks system, take part in a nature outing or event in a regional park is a great way to initiate or deepen your sense of belonging to the place you live.

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