Are you worried your kids are spending too much time indoors? Children and families will benefit from experiencing the abundance and beauty of nature each and every day.
The most important and simple way to access nature is to get out in it! Regardless of weather, intend to spend time outdoors with your child on a daily basis, even if it's just 5 minutes splashing in puddles on a rainy day.
Here are three great tips for nurturing your family’s connection with nature:
1. Plan regular outdoor adventures with your children
If staying close to home, have your kids observe flora and fauna around them. How many animals can she count or identify on a short walk around the neighborhood, or in your back yard? How about plants? Discuss differences that exist between the species you encounter.
Make getting into nature an adventure! Most Americans live within 15 miles of a state park or forest. Visit discovertheforest.org to locate parks near and far. The website has links to a variety of nature-based children’s activities.
Bringing play into your visit to the forest provides an incentive for reluctant naturalists and lots of fun for all! Can children find shapes of numbers or letters in nature on their walk? For example, “That tree’s branches look like a V!” Award children based on how many numbers or letters they find. Bringing along snacks and treats provides a reward and an opportunity to pause and observe the natural world in your midst.
2. Investigate and learn
As children observe animals and insects, snap a photo for further investigation. Digital resources abound for the young naturalist, and the local library is an excellent resource. Notice colors, textures and smells of plants. Seek out clues left by animal neighbors like tracks and scat. Use these clues to identify animals and plants that children encounter.
Librarians at your local library can help find books on native flora and fauna. Use these as a foundation for your child’s explorations. Curious and precocious children may enjoy books about photosynthesis, anatomy of animals and insects, or medicinal herbs. Field guides by Peterson and the National Audubon Society exist on everything from ferns and wildflowers to insects, spiders, and birds.
Explore the magic of photosynthesis with Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. Explore medicinal herbs in the children’s book Walking the World in Wonder by master herbalist Ellen Hopman.
Many libraries and museums also host events for naturalists young and old. Attend one of these events with your children to learn about birds of prey, or wildcrafting herbs in your area.
3. Create nature projects
Have your child keep a naturalist’s journal. He can create one using recyclable materials, or you can provide a blank notebook. Here are some ideas for what to observe and write about in a nature journal:
- Place a board on the ground in one spot. Observe what’s under there regularly as time passes and record it in the journal.
- Observe and take notes on the passage of time as manifested in plant growth. Choose one plant to follow for its entire life cycle.
- Observe a tree — note the growth cycle of foliage. What animals visit the tree regularly? What makes its home there? Learn about a tree’s anatomy and life cycle.
- Carefully observe animal life around your home and neighborhood. Can you recognize the calls of different birds? Identify the birds that live in your area and take note of sightings in your journal.
- Draw, paint, or photograph animals and plants or other natural phenomena you observe together. Paste photos in your naturalist journal and write a brief caption about each one.
Alternatively, children can create a diorama/shadowbox of found items from nature. They can create a presentation about different items for parents, siblings, and friends.
Just as Mother Nature abounds around us, an abundance of opportunities exist to connect with her if you are just willing to get out!
Finally, consider the wise words in this poem by Edna Jaques:
"Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child."