I grew up primarily in the seventies and eighties when it was customary for children to come home from school, change clothes and then run freely outdoors until the street lights came on. We were told to go outside and find something to do or we were given chores. We, of course, chose to find something to do! A big part of that was exploring nature in whatever form my neighborhood offered from catching crawfish in drainage ditches to building forts in the woods. It was easy for us as kids to love nature but today’s kids may need a little help. Here are some fun ideas for exploring nature with children as well as some reasons on why it is important to do so.
Something For Kids To Do Outside
When I was little, we built tree houses, push cars, or we roller skated in the street. We played ball, made mud pies, or tried to find the prettiest leaves to take home to Mom. Sometimes we went around looking for can to recycle so we could earn some money to buy candy. We always found something to do outside. Those are special memories to me now. They gave me sense of independence, ingenuity, and a love of the outdoors.
Offering An Alternative To Technology
These days with all the technology and all the television stations the kids find it easier to stay indoors to entertain themselves. We were blessed in a way that we did not have cell phones, computers, and thousands of channels. We had three channels and two did not come in very well. We had a couple of shows we watched together as a family in the evening and the televisions went off at ten. In the light of today’s easy access to technology and the many things that take our children’s attention away from nature and outdoors, it is more important than ever that we as parents help our children to discover the beauty of nature.
Teaching The Joys of The Outdoors
After I grew up and married I was blessed with two different types of children; one was a reader who liked nothing better than sitting and reading a good book. The other one was a very active child who wanted to keep moving constantly and discovering something new. It was important to us as parents that we kept both of them physically active so we made up our minds that we would teach them the joys of the outdoors. Exploring nature with children makes it more inviting to them. They will naturally be interested in what you are interested in. They will enjoy nature even more if it means spending time with family.
10 Ideas For Exploring Nature With Children
Take advantage of outdoor opportunities where you live. Set up a badminton net and a game of horseshoes in the back yard. If you have enough space, play tennis, catch, and other outdoor games. Ride bikes or skate supervised in the street.
Take Family Walks Or Bike Rides
Almost every evening when we got home from work we would take a walk or have a bike ride with the kids to the local park. Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for every child. As we walked or rode along there was a bayou close to our home that we would stop at and check out the tadpoles, frogs and minnows there. Then we would make our way to the park and play on the equipment or we would walk and study the different trees and plants we came across.
Identify Plant and And Animal Species
My own mother was somewhat of an expert when it came to plants, trees, and flowers. She would often take my children for outings in nearby woods and tell them the names of every tree and flower she knew. She also was well versed in most of the birds and animals that they came across. Nature adventures like these are great memories all will treasure. They visited arboretums, farms, ranches, and many parks and ponds. The children loved their outings with their Gram and have surprised me over the years with the knowledge they have gleaned from her about the different plants and trees they have seen. You may even try creating a nature journal.
We love to go fishing as a family and have fished at many lakes, ponds, and even ventured to the beach and inlets to fish.
Explore a new nature spot near you and then relax and read outside. Being out of doors has to be a family event and ingrained in children for them to grow up with a love for the outdoors. Even my avid reader was encouraged to lay a blanket in the yard or lay on an outdoor swing to do her reading and take in the sunshine. There is nothing quite like lying on a blanket and looking up at the sky and feeling the warm breezes caress your face while you delve into a good book!
We sometimes go visit my mom in the country where these is less ambient light and do some star gazing. Start with the stargzing basics, like finding the big dipper and add a new thing to look for each time. Creating an interest in Astronomy at an early age is not only a great way to encourage interest in STEM learning early on, it can also help stimulate a love of our natural world.
“Through observing the night sky together, families can connect like never before at no cost,” says Stella Kafka, CEO and Executive Director the AAVSO, “Observing variable stars and all other stars is a great way to identify constellations viewable from your yard, and can even be turned into a game of ‘who can find the constellation first!’”
Going on picnics is great fun for children and adults alike, even if you just picnic in your own back yard! There are so many ways you can spend time as a family outdoors together even if you do not have the ability to travel.
We often put up our tent in the backyard and had a campout with our kids. It is just as much fun but if anything goes wrong like the weather or someone gets scared you can take the party indoors. Just sitting outside and staring up at the stars and looking for consolations can keep children happy as long as they are sharing it with their family.
We have taken camping trips as the children got older to some of our local child-friendly campsites in state parks. You would not believe how many parks there are out there! Sometime you need to get online and take a look at a map of your states parks or state parks across the country. They are all run by the states and are manned by park rangers and have many safety features in place. They are kept clean and well watched over for the safety of families and most of them have a lake or some body of water that you can fish and swim in along with hiking trails and bike trails. Sleeping in a tent outdoors and eating under the stars and not having all the conveniences of home can be a great bonding tool for the family. You will be surprised at how close this type of activity can bring you to nature and to each other.
Garden As a Family
Another way to spend family time outdoors and learn about nature is by planting a garden with your kids. Even if it is just a small garden there is so much to be learned by getting the site ready and planting the plants or seeds, watering them, feeding them, and watching them grow. Flowers can be such a mystery when they begin to bud and bloom. My children’s favorite gardens were edible gardens. My son did not have much interest in eating vegetables until he grew some of his own and then he was so excited to taste the fruits of his labor! It is fun to try out different gardening activities with kids and see which ones they end up enjoying most.
Enjoy Nature As A Family
We as parents need to be more persistent than ever in getting our children out of doors and showing them the beauty of nature. We need to give them a love for gardening, and show them how to enjoy the beauty of the world around us. It is important for children to look outside of themselves and see natural beauty and find relaxing, pleasurable ways to entertain themselves outside of technology. That begins with us as parents or grandparents because their inclination will be to get into the technology at their fingertips and ignore the great potential that nature has in store for those who venture out. If you have a Nature Center near your house, that is an excellent place to start learning to appreciate nature and enjoy some of their local events and programming.
I hope you find these ideas useful for exploring nature with children. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section.