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Sensory Tours by Kids

Originally appears in the Fall 2016 issue

“Is it mozzarella?” Dexter asks.
“Is it mozzarella? Do you think that’s a mozzarella tree?” His teacher responds.
Four-year old Dexter picks up the decaying tree limb, feeling the soft stringy core inside, his voice exclaims with excitement, “Yeah! You get cheese from trees, just like paper!”

CHILDREN ARE ACTIVE AGENTS in constructing their own culture in all the environments in which they are exposed. What adults may view as a decaying tree limb on the forest floor, children transform into a cheesy creation through the exercise of their senses (e.g. sight and touch). Children’s meaning-making is significant, because these meanings influence their experiences (positive or negative), the relationships they form, and how they identify with the natural world. In the early and middle childhood years, such meaning often takes on an imaginary form. In this way, children perceive that anything is possible in the natural environment. As such, nature becomes a place
of play, discovery, and inspiration. In this article I describe a tool, which I will refer to as Sensory Tours, as a method for exploring the way in which children perceive, experience, and make meaning of their environments. The beauty of Sensory Tours is that meaning making is captured by way of children’s authentic experiences with peers and adults and animate and inanimate objects in the natural world. Sensory Tours reveal what a child sees, hears, says, and how they interact with the environment. It captures their self-talk, the songs they might sing, and the unknown life-world of a child apart from an adult. Whether collecting litter in the city, planting a garden, or exploring a new canyon, you can facilitate Sensory Tours with children of all age groups, wherever you are.

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Carie Green is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She teaches introductory and field study research methods, place-based education, and child development in the School of Education’s Graduate Programs.

The examples and situations described in this paper were derived from a larger research project, titled: “Engaging Young Children as Active Researchers.” The project was supported by Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) funds at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as well as support from Alaska EPSCoR NSF award #OIA-1208927 and the state of Alaska. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Science Foundation.

1. See Green, C. (2013). A sense of autonomy in young children’s special places. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 1(1), 8-33.
2. See Green, C., Kalvaitis, D., Worster, A. (2015). Recontextualizing psychosocial development in young children: A model of environmental identity development. Environmental Education Research (ahead of print), 1-24. DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2015.1072136.