Encouraging your child to spend time connecting with nature can encourage a lifelong appreciation for it. Exploring the outdoors—whether it’s a forest, a local park, or your own backyard—is a healthy, fun, and interactive way to curb the growing trend of childhood inactivity due to the technological influences (“screen time”) taking place at home.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids between 8 and 10 years old typically spend about eight hours per day watching television, playing video games, or using their computers and smartphones. Aside from the content they’re exposed to, gazing at these devices can have negative physical and developmental effects over time. On the other hand, children who spend less time indoors and engaged with this media tend to sleep better, feel healthier, do better in school, and carry fewer behavioral issues.
Additionally, kids can come to be so active and learn from hands-on experiences when in nature. In fact, various outdoor scenes regularly support advanced motor skills, develop a creative imagination, and assist with cognitive development—among many other benefits. Here are three ways to foster a love of nature for kids:
Spend More Time in Your Own Backyard
Create a special area that pays homage to nature. You could set up a cozy nook with a hammock and outdoor pillows among the trees, plant unique greenery that can be used for homework in the shade or afternoon tea time, or design a butterfly and bee garden for your children to observe these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
Teach them about gardening, and let them get their hands dirty! When kids work in the garden, they’re not only having fun playing in the dirt; they’re learning important skills and the value of a job well done. Helping your child plant a vegetable garden, for example, is one of the best ways to expose a love and respect of nature for kids. The entire process, from planting the seeds and watching them grow to caring for the plants and sharing the bounty, teaches responsibility and a reverence for nature.
Take a Hike
Spend time beyond your own backyard. One of the simplest ways to connect with nature is to take a nature walk or hike. Turn the cell phones off (you won’t have service anyway!) and enjoy a stroll through the canyon, nature preserve, or woods. Nature for kids really begins with the senses. Make the effort to focus on the sounds, the smells, and the sights.
Bring along native plant and bird guides and binoculars to enhance the experience and learn about the unique life that abounds in your local area. This is a wonderful activity because it fosters curiosity and, with time, a desire to keep coming back in search for an elusive bird species your kids just learned is local to their neighborhood. Another bonus? Your child can learn about how to spot which plants are poisonous, helping them avoid the misery of poison oak.
Play and Explore Outdoors
Have fun! It’s that simple. Did you know kids learn as they play? It’s true. Check out more on the benefits of playing outdoors, connecting with nature, and how to design nature play and learning spaces with this handy guide from the Natural Learning Initiative and the National Wildlife Federation.
Set up a neighbor kickball game or a scavenger hunt so you kids can experience the excitement of a competition without a gaming console. You can also go camping (even in your backyard!), try bird watching, pick blackberries, point a telescope at the stars, search for shells on the beach, or bike ride on a local rail trail. Materials found in natural are the perfect arts and crafts tools, as well. Explain how versatile and special nature is by making leaf collages or using rocks and sticks as paintbrushes. With your findings, you can also compare rocks, make a fort with sticks, or create a nature journal.
Your options are basically endless. Make going outside and exploring part of your family’s play routine, and soon putting down the tablet, lacing up their sneakers, and heading into nature will become second “nature.”
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This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.