Cultivating Crucial Connections

Written by Matt Flower
    Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Cultivating Crucial Connections

There’s a certain allure to farming that resonates with almost everyone. It’s very hard work, but your daily connection to the land is powerful. As an environmental educator at the Urban Ecology Center I consider myself a farmer of connections.

From birth, children are developing their connection with the wider world and the many experiences in nature make up the threads that are woven throughout our entire lives.

I’ve had the pleasure over the last three years to specialize my work in providing nature-based early childhood programs to day cares, learning centers and preschools through our Preschool Environmental Education Project (PEEP). These first introductory programs with children as young as one year old are when we:

  • Plant the seed of curiosity, wonder and mystery
  • Provide an environment of imagination, growth and learning
  • Model the process and joy of discovery
  • Encourage physical, intellectual, social and emotional growth through play and reflection

The journey described above is not one long life-time trajectory. Just like the seasons, this process is cyclical and offers new opportunities at each stage. Nature can be simply a sensory experience or one that can engage the intellect in extremely complex ways. A butterfly can be so many things to someone throughout their lives — from a delicate, fluttering shape passing in view to amazing insects that make a four generation journey to the north with a 1500 mile migration from Wisconsin back to Mexico!

Think of water, flowers, birds, trees, apples, rocks and the countless number of things we think of as nature and try to remember or imagine what those items meant to you when you first saw, felt, heard, tasted and smelled them. Then try to follow your knowledge of it growing through the years. Each are now concepts filled with connections for you, such as pollination, photosynthesis, decomposition or nutrition. Finally, consider the vast potential in these fascinating topics that could literally take a lifetime to explore. As an entomologist, you could study insects your whole life and still be uncovering new species and mysteries every day.

The connections made between you and nature in turn provide opportunities to connect with others that share in your passion. So, if you have the passion for nature, and you have lots of people who share this passion, the only piece to this puzzle is access! Here is where the Urban Ecology Center enters as an unassuming ambassador of connection: creating accessible, engaging, affordable experiences for everyone.

The inspiration for this article came from an amazing intergenerational program I did in the spring. After a fun, interactive story about maple sugaring, the preschoolers served the elders pancakes covered with real maple syrup boiled down by staff and volunteers in Riverside Park. Seeing a 4 year-old child serve a 92 year-old “grand-friend”, then sit down to share this sweet treat was so moving. It all became so perfectly clear. We all need nature and we all need each other.

This is the seed of connection that grows in every Urban Ecology Center. I feel honored to be part of an organization that helps tend these essential relationships.

Matt Flower

Matt Flower

Environmental Educator Matt Flower joined the Urban Ecology Center in 2006.  Matt received his Naturalist training at Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg, Wisconsin and was an Educator and Land Manager at Neighborhood House’s Nature Center. He is married with two young children. Matt’s interests include birds, wild edibles, trees, winter ecology and, most of all, teaching kids how to explore wild spaces and make nature come alive. For Matt, a smile is worth a thousand words. He finds it empowering to work with people who love what they do.


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