How To Instill Your Kids With A Love Of Nature
We’re often taught about the importance of the environment, but do we spend as much time celebrating the natural world as we could? Contact with nature is becoming even more essential, as children are spending nearly 8 hours a day using entertainment media. With children less free to play outside, we are at risk of losing an entire generation’s appreciation for how nature works and what it needs to thrive.
There’s nothing quite like a muddy walk through the forest, or a trip to the beach with the kids; so we’ve put together some tips on how you can nurture a love of nature for the whole family:
Remind yourself: You know enough
It’s great to teach your children new things, but they won’t care if you know the Latin names of plants: They just want to splash in puddles, and have time to stop and smell flowers. If you happen to have guide books, and binoculars, that’s great; but you don’t need to recognize an animal’s track in order to follow it. Instead, just get out there are see what happens.
Ask (and encourage) questions, even if you don’t know the answers.
It can be just as fun to look, and discuss what the correct answers might be; as it is to have all the facts. While you’re there, why not take photos of interesting things; and look up information about them when you get home?
How do we know trees are alive?
What differences and similarities can you see with different leaves? Can you find the tree that each leaf came from?
If there’s a tree stump, how old was that tree? Every growth season, a tree adds a new layer of wood to its trunk and limbs. This means you can determine the age of a tree by counting its layers, or rings.
Are there signs of different plants and animals co-existing?
What tracks, and animal droppings can you see? Can you identify them? (What child doesn’t love to talk about poo?!)
Embrace the dirt
The great outdoors is one place where you shouldn't be too precious about dirt. Throw on those waterproof jackets and welly boots when you're heading out in all weathers; have plastic bags and wipes on hand for when you're getting back in the car; and encourage the whole family to be responsible for bringing things to the washing machine once you're home; but while you're out and about, enjoy it!
Try saying: ‘I’ll follow you.’
You probably spend a lot of time leading. You make sure they get dressed, that they eat enough, that they arrive on time … But sometimes it is nice to stop checking your watch, and to follow, rather than leading: ‘I’ll follow you’ allows your child to be in control.
By leading the way, they can make their own discoveries, and go at their own pace. This empowers them to step forward into the unknown with confidence; and gives you a break from yelling ‘keep up’. There is no rush! It is important that we explore the outside world; but it can be as much of a journey of discovery for the children themselves, as it is about discovering the outdoors.
Nature can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
While becoming a wilderness explorer is valuable, the natural world isn’t limited to vast landscapes. You can also find a surprising amount in urban areas: weeds breaking through paving, hawks nesting on bridges, town parks, and tree lined streets; remind us of the wonder of nature, and prove that plants and animals can survive even in the most unlikely places.
Read Next: How To Teach Your Children To Love The Great Outdoors
Be frank and straightforward about nature.
Getting back to nature is a great opportunity to teach children about the realities of life; so don’t shy away from anything. If you find a worm, look at how amazing and different it is, rather than screaming. If you find a spider (at home or outside) encourage your kids to name it, or try to look out what kind it is.
If you see a dead animal, rather than shielding them from it, explain how it’s sad; but part of the circle of life. What animal was it? Do you know how it might have died? Inquisitiveness and a certain amount of humour helps to remove a lot of fear from situations.
Everything is both interconnected, and has value on its own.
A lot of things in nature, particularly the less attractive things like woodlice, algae, and mould; make more sense, and become more interesting, when you see how they relate to everything else. Ecological interactions are incredibly complex, with each plant, animal, bacteria, and fungus having its own unique niche. Remember that bigger species (including humans), wouldn’t be around without birds, insects, and bacteria.
“Fresh air, exercise, and creative exploration are just a few of the benefits children can experience when they spend time outdoors. Encouraging children to be active while outdoors, is important for physical, cognitive, and social development. Fostering opportunities for outdoor learning, will help the next generation grow and develop; as they build an appreciation for nature at an early age.”
Dr. Courtney Crim, Trinity University, Texas
When heading outside, don’t bring toys.
Toys can be replaced by the imaginative use of sticks, rocks and leaves. Let your kids gather treasures along the walk, that they might want to try to identify, draw, or (for particularly exciting objects) collect.
If you’re worried about too much building up at home, make it a policy that items from your last adventure, should be returned to nature next time you go out somewhere; or get the kids to choose their one favourite item to take home, and encourage them to make a special box to keep treasures in.
Read More: How To Teach Your Child To Have Fun With Recycling
Carry on the adventure at home
There doesn’t have to be a divide between inside and outside; and there’s lots of ways to carry on at home. Encourage your kids to:
- Do rubbings of leaves with wax crayons.
- Draw pictures, or write about what you all saw.
- Look up answers to things you weren’t sure about.
- Research other exciting places to explore in your area.
- Even if you don’t have any outside space at home, you could try growing some pot plants, or grow cress in an empty egg shell filled with a little damp cotton wool.
When it comes to creativity, there is no right or wrong or good or bad: And that’s the way it is in nature, too.
Did you spend much time making mud pies when you were little, or do you prefer to stay clean and dry? And do you think it's important to teach our kids about nature? We'd love to hear!
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