Follow the Child: Let Nature Take the Lead

by Susan Shea


In working with students aged 2 through 7 for over twenty years, I have learned much about human development during childhood. No textbook could communicate as effectively as observation, as with the study of nature itself. By learning when to not intervene, not interrupt and not provide direct instruction I have discovered that young children are instinctively sensitive towards order and organization, towards sensory input, towards movement and towards fine detail.

The indoor classroom needs extensive and careful preparation in order to meet these needs. However, nature effortlessly prepares a environment in which a young learner can engage and explore in the process of discovery.

Parents following child in park

When you next take a walk with your child, allow nature to take the lead.

Admittedly, it is difficult to hold back from instruction, from informing and from talking in general. We love our children so much that we cannot refrain from sharing our own knowledge with them. But if learning is to be truly meaningful for a little one, it should stem from spontaneous interest.

Watch and see how a child might not seem to appreciate the height of the tallest tree in the woods but might instead notice an insect on a leaf, might be drawn to the gentle song of a bird or might find a rock that resembles in shape another familiar object. Follow the child in terms of focus. Your trip to the stream may become instead a time examining the weeds along the path.
Small green plants under large trees

Your proposed hike might not get far beyond the parking lot. However, the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning is a gift that fosters interest and promotes further investigation. Your child will cultivate a genuine love of nature and you will be, as I continue to be, amazed by the natural tendencies of our own species.


During her career in young children’s Montessori learning spaces around the world, Susan’s attention to each student’s individual learning experience showed her a myriad of ways to support early literacy and natural discovery. Through Phonetic Planet, she shares inspiration and ideas beyond the classroom with children, parents, teachers, and caregivers. Visit phoneticplanet.org for more information.

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