“If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body…it can’t be in the brain.”

Many who are active with CNGF share the belief that, to grow into adults who wish to live in harmony with the earth, children must experience nature when they are very young. What do we mean by “experience” nature? Anyone who has been in relationship with a young child, either as parent or teacher (and, for that matter, anyone who was once a child), knows that lecturing young children on the virtues of nature, or anything else, is not likely to be an effective way of engaging them. Early childhood educator extraordinaire Bev Bos famously said of engaging children “If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body…it can’t be in the brain.”

On December 9, 2021, Christina and Melissa facilitated a First Five lesson for 2 and 3 year old children and their adults at First Five of Silicon Valley at Santee School. The shared hour revolved around an exploration of corn…with investigation of the very tall plants growing in the ELSEE garden, with their kernels and silk. Stories and amazing facts were shared as the children roamed the garden, observing, feeling, smelling and hearing the sights and sounds around them. The children were offered so many foods made of corn and other plants growing in the garden…some familiar, some new, and they made choices about what they would feel, taste, devour, and if/when/how they would ask for more. The teachers offered provocations that had the children imagining themselves as growing seeds in the soil, and as popping corn.

But what stood out to me, observing these very young children, was Bev Bos’s voice in my head, “(i)f it hasn’t been in the hand and the body…it can’t be in the brain.” The children’s hands! I began to try to capture photos of their hands as indications of all that was going on in their brains.

A bit of an aside: For many years the work of the people of the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, has inspired me to think more deeply about how our young children learn. One of the many things I learned from studying the Reggio approach to early childhood education is that documenting learning through captured dialogue and visual media allows all members of the learning community to reflect on the learning, to learn from it what interests the children, and to formulate a direction to take the learning. So on this particular day, I sought to “capture” hands. I share the photos below, with my thoughts about what I imagine might have been the children’s thoughts in the moment.

This child kept grabbing for the swinging cushion, trying time and again to stop the swing so she could climb it to sit and swing. She exhibited persistence, and eventually was successful. Her two friends climbed on with her (For privacy reasons, I’m not able to share photos of their smiling faces. But you can take my word for it that they were very happy about what they’d accomplished together!)

This child was slowly feeling the damp earth after a morning rain. She watched as the soil fell between her fingers and she picked up more and repeated. Was she feeling the grains? the dampness? Was she looking for worms?

Digging is so satisfying for our youngest learners. Overheard “I dug the deepest hole ever!” Such confidence and pride in his work! The child above held the spade with one hand, and then with two. He seemed happier with the effect of digging with two hands. He could dig under the green shoots and see tiny roots in the soil.

This very young child noticed her cup tipped on the uneven surface of the table and reached for it. She explored the uneven surface.

These friends sat side by side on the garden swing smelling their “dream sachets” filled with dried herbs and flowers from the garden. Each one showed me her sachet and chirped with a smile “pink!” “pink!” “pink!”


Feeling the dried, crinkly leaves. How does it feel? What color is it? Can I tear it? How is it different from the other dried, crinkly pieces I see? Wondering how it tastes…

Under adult supervision, feeling the pressure/force needed to “feed” the juicer with garden produce. Is one veggie harder than another? What does the juicer do? How does the juice taste?


Searching for worms…where are they? do you see one? I see one! Here it is… Why does the worm live here?

“I know these!” Tasting foods of different flavors, shapes, colors, and textures. Thinking about how this can be corn just as the ear on the plant is corn…

Digging in with two hands. Savoring the cool feeling of the damp earth. Perhaps thinking about planting seeds…

Noticing more deeply…”digging deeper” into a study of the soil…

Corn muffin…how did that ear of corn become this yummy food? it feels soft…it crumbles…

After the children and their teachers left, the teachers reflected and, indeed, agreed that the parts of the day that seemed most effective were those where the children’s bodies were involved in the learning…either through the hands or the larger body (when involved in music/movement). What a gift for hands and minds to have an ELSEE garden for exploration!