PUBLISHED: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Patty Born Selly

Published: 2012

It comes as no surprise that Patty Born Selly, author of Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth, loves spending time in nature. Read on as Patty reveals her favorite outdoor spot in the Twin Cities, tips for teaching children to care for our Earth, and the best compliment she's been paid.

Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth is due out at the end of the month. Where did you write it?

I wrote most of the book in libraries. I've always loved libraries—the happy, curious visitors who are almost reverent, the smell of books and being surrounded by them. It's very inspiring! Also, I love the total silence—it's something that is all too rare in my life. For me, silence can be very relaxing and conducive to writing in a way that nothing else is. I crave it. It helps me quiet my mind and focus. There were times I'd shut myself in the library from dawn until closing time, and then I'd be there bright and early the next morning, coffee in hand and ready to work. Of course, I always managed to nab a spot by the window!


Your book is filled with great activities to help children learn to care for the Earth. When did your interest in this subject begin?

I've always loved animals and nature. My favorite childhood memories took place outdoors—swinging from the branches of the willow tree in my backyard, raking trails through the leaves in my lawn, or climbing as high as I could go in the maple tree with a pocket full of cookies to savor when I reached the top. I remember waking up to the robin's song in springtime and playing hide-and-seek in the bushes along the edge of our yard. My family didn't go on many outdoor adventures when I was a child, but for me, simply knowing and feeling love for the trees and birds in my backyard was enough to set me on a path that eventually became my life's work!

I was a park naturalist for many years, and when I had my daughter I knew I wanted to spend my life working to help young children connect to nature in meaningful and powerful ways. That's when I moved into consulting part-time, as well as writing and teaching. It is still a thrill for me to spend time outdoors with children, bearing witness to their joy and excitement. The natural world is full of things to experience and be curious about, and I love to help teachers and children get out there.


Presenting environmental lessons and activities to children to promote their appreciation for our Earth might seem a bit intimidating. Do you have any advice for educators as they use nature as a learning tool?

Just do it! Sometimes, educators worry that they won't have enough to do, they won't know the answer to a question a child might ask, and so on. Nature provides its own inspiration. You don't need to over think it. Just have a loose plan, keep everyone safe, and be willing to follow the children's interests. Often, things as simple as a dandelion gone to seed or a line of marching ants is enough! Spontaneous opportunities are all you need to get children excited and make discoveries together. Be willing to let them engage in free, unstructured exploration. Make sure they know you care about them and that you are interested in what they are discovering. This is how the most meaningful connections can arise. These connections and happy experiences lead to feelings of stewardship.


Do you have a favorite nature teaching moment?

I was outside with my daughter, then 5, when she said, "You're the kind of mommy who loves nature so much you eat sticks and rocks and stuff, aren't you?" Of course, I don't eat sticks and rocks, but it felt like the highest kind of praise! I also love when I overhear children talking to animals or plants. They seem to recognize the special qualities in all life forms, and they are so in touch with that. It is refreshing and makes me feel so hopeful for the future!


Where do you love spending time outdoors?

My favorite place in nature is right in the city—Lyndale Park in South Minneapolis. There is a grove of cedar trees there that is just magical—perfect for playing around and climbing on. I've been taking my children there since they were babies and we still love to play, have picnics, climb trees, and run up and down the huge hill. The photo above is of me and my daughter, Lucy, enjoying this beautiful spot.


Patty's Top Five Suggestions For Teaching Children About The Environment

1. Practice Joy!

Happiness and safety are at the root of everything, and a love for nature comes from joyful, secure feelings outside. Save the heavy stuff for later—older children are better equipped to deal with the emotional weight of environmental issues. Please, please, no tales of environmental tragedies in the early childhood classroom!

2. Model Positive Behaviors

Recycle, conserve water, and be mindful of your own habits. As early childhood educators know, our own behaviors send the most powerful messages. Let the children see you being sensitive to the environment through your actions, and it will normalize the behavior.

3. Start Small

You don't have to (nor can you!) solve the world's environmental problems singlehandedly. It can be overwhelming to try to do too much at one time. And most educators can't completely overhaul their entire program in one fell swoop. Pick one thing to begin with. For example, encourage everyone to bring a reusable water bottle instead of using disposable cups. It may feel like a small step, but it's a step in the right direction.

4. Share Your Successes!

Be vocal about what you're doing and the ways in which you and your program are practicing the art of being green. There are many shades of green, so find what works for your program and broadcast it loud and clear. This is a great way to build support among staff and families.

5. Go Outside

Simply put, young children must know and love the environment before they can be expected to grow up to be its caretakers. Go outside, and go often. This is the best way to plant seeds of environmental stewardship.

Learn more and see a full list of titles by Patty Born Selly.