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Hooked on Nature has partnered with FIRST 5 Santa Clara County to develop a training workshop for parents and pre-school teachers called ?Plant a Seed: Grow a Reader. Sowing the Seeds of Learning" to enable people to feel confident about stressing the importance of play in nature as a vital component of learning, literacy and healthy development. Literacy and ?school readiness? are major priorities for many parents of toddlers and  pre-school children. Current research in child development shows that contact with nature is a critical component in brain development in all aspects of life, including preparation for literacy.

?We ask parents and teachers to become

children for a couple of hours??

FIRST 5 Santa Clara County is one of a network of 58 ?FIRST 5? programs throughout California that funds, advocates and educates on the healthy development of children from prenatal through five years old.  FIRST 5 is funded by the California tobacco tax and has created a network that connects all schools and agencies that provide services for children through age five.

?Plant a Seed, Grow a Reader? has been offered since 2004 in a wide variety of settings including public libraries, parks, mothers? groups, colleges, adult education courses, pre-schools, conferences and community service agencies. Today?s early childhood educators are under intense pressure (a result of the Leave No Child Behind mandates) to prepare children for reading, so one of the goals of the workshop is to explain to parents why teachers are letting children go outside and play rather than just sit still, listen and learn the alphabet. 

Another goal is to give teachers the theories and research to back up what they already know ? that children learn much better when they are also given plenty of time to play freely outside.  Hand-outs on brain development explain the critical role of outdoor play in developing self-confidence and social skills as well, which are also crucial components of learning to read.

Diane Gordon, of Hooked on Nature, developed ?Plant a Seed, Grow a Reader?. FIRST 5 Santa Clara County provided funding for the workshop materials and used their network of agencies to promote the workshops.  Diane has led over 50 workshops and is getting an increasing number of requests from groups all over California.  She says,   ?During the workshop we ask parents and teachers to become children for a couple of hours ? getting their hands in the dirt, sowing seeds and playing with bubbles. If time allows, we go outside to gaze at the night sky or take a walk in the rain. Or just appreciate being outdoors.
But we always start out by asking them to remember their own experiences in nature and what that kind of play and exploration meant to them as a child??  The adults share their memories with each other and with the group.  Diane says, ?Their whole body language changes as they share their childhood memories. You can see that they are experiencing as well as understanding the importance of these experiences in a deep way.?

The adults then promise to tell their children, students and/or grandchildren about their own childhood experiences in nature. This gives children a strong message that the adults in their lives value time spent playing in nature.  It also helps develop family folklore and cultural folklore.

Another key part of the workshop is a short video in Spanish and English, ?My Parents, My Teachers/Mis Padres, Mis Maestros?, which discusses the role of  early childhood experiences such as nature, music, dancing, art and communication in early childhood brain development.  In her workshops, Diane uses the section of the video that emphasises the vital role of parents, grandparents or mentors play because of the importance of touch and hands-on communication.  The video shows how many kinds of touch and cuddling ? loving, comforting and playful ? are helping to make essential connections in the brain of a young child.
Diane says, ?I always end by referring to Richard Louv?s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  He talks about the fact that through time it has been those who have fallen in love with the Earth as children who have cherished and protected her as adults. I remind everyone that Earth still needs her children ? and this is great and important work we are all engaged in.?

Hooked on Nature?s workshops ?Plant a Seed, Grow a Reader? and ?Children, Nature and You? have had a significant impact on how educators and children?s agencies view the role of nature in child development. Getting children outdoors is now one of FIRST 5 Santa Clara County?s major priorities.