How To Teach Your Child To Love The Outdoors
Children and nature go together; they embrace it and love to learn about living things in the world around them. It is important to introduce children to nature and the natural world from an early age as it promotes curiosity and interest in their environment, and exploration and understanding of plants and animals.
We can all remember the fascination of counting the dots on a ladybird’s back if we were lucky enough to have one land on our hand or arm, collecting woodlice in a box or watching a snail recede back into its shell when we picked them up from the garden after the rain!
Children’s social, emotional, and physical development is linked to exposure to nature to develop, and we should ensure that they have plenty of opportunities to experience it first-hand. Children become better observers and feel more connected to the outdoors while they expand their imagination to create special places such as dens and huts, and use natural items to create stories and play. Equally important, being outside encourages an appreciation of the natural world on which we depend. There can never be too much nature in a child’s life as it is the antidote to the fast-paced, world in which many young children live. Parents often feel pressured to fill their children's time with lessons, organised sports and structured activities of every kind and whilst such activities are often positive, they can be overdone. There is a point of diminishing returns, when over-scheduling activities begins to cut into a child's full use of the senses, natural creativity and free-play time.
A simple way to introduce children to nature is to take them on short hikes or nature walks into the woods, starting when they are very young. Young children need no encouragement to love being outside as everything around them is still magical and interesting such as insects, birds, stones, flowers. The key is to keep taking them on walks in the woods or fishing, hiking, or camping throughout their childhood, even when they start to say it’s boring in the pre-teen years! They will gain so much from understanding how life outdoors works.
Children will also love to watch things grow in a window box garden or maybe identify a planting area in your back garden; plant seeds and grow flowers that provide nectar and attract butterflies and insects or plant tomatoes, strawberries, peas or other fruit and veg which are easy to grow and your child will love to taste. Children will feel a strong connection to nature as they have a direct hand in its creation and have watered the plants and watched them grow. It is very rewarding to see the fruits of their endeavours and then enjoy a tasty smoothie! You may wish to be more adventurous and create a ‘wormery’ with your child which can be very simply done with an old plastic recycling box with a lid placed on bricks – drill holes in the bottom and the side, line it with newspaper so the worms don’t fall out and then add a bucket of worm bedding and soil - then you are ready to add worms! Your child will love watching the worms decompose tea bags, banana skins, vegetable peels, coffee grounds etc. but be careful not to overload the box.
There is also a range of wonderful sensorial experiences in nature to be enjoyed all year round, whatever the weather. Go for a walk in the rain as children can listen to the sounds of raindrops on leaves and of course, get to splash in puddles and mud or on the seafront. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes so put on their rain jackets and wellingtons and get the whole family outside to listen to the sounds in the fields and woods. Children love the feel of wet sand as well and it makes much better sandcastles!
Remember that nature instils a sense of beauty, calmness and wonder in everyone and it is never too early to begin to enjoy the living world with your child!
Nature’s Way: Here are some great ideas to connect with the outdoors
- Sit and listen to the sounds of nature with your child – try to work out what they are and where they coming from.
- For older children, keep a notebook to hand and do drawings of what they see or rubbings of trees and leaves.
- Touch and feel all the different surfaces; stone, bark; soil, leaves, sand shells. Notice the difference and talk about how they feel.
- Make sounds from natural materials – tap stones or sticks together, clack conkers or listen to the sound of the sea from large shells.
- At the beach, stand at the water’s edge and let the water ebb and flow over your toes; Talk about the tide and watch it coming in or going out!
- Find a space to lie on your back together and look at the sky, following the birds and the shapes of the clouds as they move across the sky or at night time, when your child is a little older, you can look at the stars and point out the constellations.
- Adopt an animal from organisations like the Word Wildlife Trust or from Dublin Zoo, which will give your child a personal connection to their favourite animal.
Written by Dearbhala Cox Giffin, Director of Childcare at Giraffe, for eumom.
Have you any other tips for instilling a love of the outdoors in children? Let us know in the comments.