These are my wonderful mum’s pearls of wisdom, and how right she is. She was talking about a picture of a magnificent specimen of Ceanothus, with pillowy mounds of undulating vibrant blue flowers, snapped on my walk back from school. This reminded me of the awe, wonder and pattern to be found everywhere in nature, from the regal candelabra flowers on the horse chestnut, to the delicate tapering fronds of soft lilac petals on the wisteria, draping lace-like over the fence. Speaking of lace, when looking at a fragment of dead coral the other weekend, my mum reflected on how this must have been the inspiration behind lace, its intricate repeating pattern just like a priceless piece of antique lace.
Like nature itself, children’s brains are programmed to seek out pattern to help make sense of their world. Not just pattern in the literal sense, differentiating between spots, stripes and checks, but also in terms of decoding the potential links between objects and events. We now understand that it is only through repeated exposure to a wealth of sensory-rich objects and environments that infants build up a large enough bank of rules about objects, such as dogs have four legs and a tail and a ball is round, to develop categories, (a complex neural filing system), in the brain. With enough rules and categories formed, they can then move onto making judgements based on the similarity between two or more things, rather than starting at the beginning each time they encounter an object. Using the analogy of dogs, with time and plenty of opportunities to encounter and experience different dogs, an infant will understand that all dogs share common characteristics and yet are unique. When encountering a dog breed which they are not familiar with, say a Dalmatian, given sufficient experiences their starting point will be this dog is spotty rather than what is this thing?
And this is where again we discover how wonderful nature is. Not just are children hardwired to explore and spot details in the environment all around them, but the ever changing outdoor environment, its flora, fauna and natural treasures offer infinite opportunities for exploration and discovery, perfect for captivating children’s interest. And so closes the circle as nature has perfected an environment which enraptures children and the human body and brain designed to capitalise on this, that is, if we adults allow it!