As a mom of two boys and the Education Director for a nonprofit land trust, I am always looking for ways to cultivate a connection between kids and the natural world around them. We live in a world where access to information (hello, Pinterest!) is at our fingertips and “go big or go home” is often the mantra for everything from school projects to birthday parties. As parents, we know that being out in nature is healthy and should be a part of our children’s’ lives but we are often too busy or simply stumped as to how to make the outdoors part of our routine.
The great news is that connecting with nature doesn’t have to be elaborate, time-consuming, or even costly. Here is a quick list of things you can do today to create a relationship with nature for your child:
1. Visit a park in your city that has an open space trail
You don’t have to drive to a forest to experience nature. Most every city in this country has a system of city parks. Many of those parks include open spaces with local, native habitat. Take a walk on the trails with your children. Watch a lizard scale a tree or wild turkey forage for seeds. I guarantee that your kids will be engaged because there is something for everyone in nature.
2. Plant a garden
Planting a garden is a great way to get your hands dirty, work the earth, and watch the literal fruits of your labor come to life. You don’t need a huge yard or an elaborate plan. Clear some grass or buy some pots, fill with good soil, plants some seeds or starters, and watch your garden grow. Make sure your child is involved every step of the way and you will likely have the added benefit of them actually wanting to eat the fruits and veggies they raised!
3. Buy or download a guide
We all know that knowledge is power. Empower your children to learn to identify the animals and plants in your yard or surrounding habitat. There is an abundance of wildlife in your own backyard. Looking at nature guides or even using a mobile device to download a guide can be really fun. Who knows, you may even learn a thing or two along with your child!
4. Make a collection
Children have a natural desire to collect things and group things together. Capitalize on that instinct and collect things you find outside. At my house we have acorn collections, leaf collections, rock collections, and the list can go on and on. I regularly use these collections as ways to talk about natural processes such as acorns and how an oak tree grows, identifying trees by their leaves, and looking closely at rocks to learn a bit of Geology.
5. Model curiosity
We know that kids are innately curious. We also know that they look to us and model our behaviors. Encourage and cultivate that desire to learn and experience nature by actually showing your own curiosity. Being outside calms the mind, develops observational skills, deepens awareness, and can foster empathy and wonder. Take these tips and experience the outdoor with your kids today.
This is a guest post written by Kelly Velasco, the Director of Education and Outreach for the Wildlife Heritage Foundation.