Power Up Outside: 7 Ways to Nurture Your Child’s Relationship to Nature

It’s a big, vibrant world out there; modeling a relationship to nature is an essential part of good parenting.

We all use it everyday, but in conversation we all complain about it too: technology has radically transformed our perspectives, our lifestyles, and especially our manners. Those of us old enough to remember the pre-cell phone days grow melancholy when we recall simply going over to a friend’s house and knocking on the door without extensive texting beforehand. Sigh.

Don’t get us wrong, the tech is brilliant– it’s nothing short of genius. However, we pay a heavy cost and our children, well, we worry. As the world becomes more automated, they are inclined to be less active, experiencing life as a viewer and a user, not a doer.

Frankly, there is really one obvious antidote to the smart-era and it’s getting out into the natural world. If we can start to do this while our kids are young, we lay the foundation for an ongoing dynamic exchange with our planet that will no doubt serve them lifelong. It really is up to us to unplug, to venture out, and to seek the peace of nature so our kids understand the importance. Here are some ideas for inspiring your family in a way that requires no batteries, no cords, and no screens.  

  1. Plant a Garden. If you are like most families, the yard gets attention a few times a year. But there is something happening out there If you live in a place where it snows, then obviously your garden is available for three seasons out of the year (if you’re lucky!), but there is always something to do. In more urban environments, community gardens are springing up all over the place, so teaming up with other families to grow some cucumbers and carrots is a great family outing that you can make a standing date. The benefits for kids are too many to name here, but chew on this: picky eaters are more likely to enjoy things they planted themselves, it counts as exercise and fresh air, and you enjoy the family in the big circle of working the land, planting seeds, and harvesting. Schools all over the country are realizing with horror that kids know what fries are, but not what vegetable they are made from. Growing food is our birthright so while it is hard work, it is also innately fun and satisfying. For more on this, view our Picky Eaters blog here:
  1. Nature Hike. No matter where you are, there is likely a trail not far away leading into some beautiful scenery like mountains, dessert, forest, or field. Take a day, make a picnic, and go somewhere less populated, less noisy, more wild. A long walk or hike up a trail is great for the body and brain. It’s an easy sell too, if you get excited about going on an adventure.
  1. Target Practice. This one is so simple to set up and can become more complex as your kids age. A beanbag toss is as simple as a few beanbags and plywood with a few holes in it, horseshoes and a stake are the next level up, and when they tire of that, try archery. This teaches kids precision and concentration, and once you’ve got it set up, they can indulge in it any time they want. When you think about it, this is a skill that served us for most of our existence. Rediscover it!
  1. Volunteer at the Animal Shelter. Often, shelters have too many pets and not enough staff to give every dog the exercise needed daily. Volunteering to walk dogs for the shelter is good for us, good for the kids, and out-of-this-world fabulous for the dogs. This is a fantastic practice for kids who don’t have a pet of their own, but make sure to have a conversation with them about owning versus helping in case they fall in love.
  1. Botany Specimen Collection. On any of these adventures, kids can collect different species of plants that they can press and collect in a notebook. To press plants or flowers, you just need wax paper and a couple heavy books. Bear in mind that the plants take a few weeks to dry, but once they do, your children can glue them inside of a journal, label them, and make notes as to where each plant was found. This ongoing project is a great exercise about multi-step study. You can teach them about great pioneers like Charles Darwin or John Muir.
  1. Suncatchers Another option with the pressed flowers, especially if they are colorful, is to make Suncatchers out of them. To brighten them up even further, grab some old crayon parts and a micro-planer, arrange the flowers, and have the kids shave the crayons onto the wax paper. When they are done, place another piece of wax paper over the top and iron the surfaces together so that the crayons melt into pretty patterns. The kids can hang these in the windows with clear tape, and the light will pass through the flowers, leaves, and colors. Different seasons provide very different final products.
  1. Bug Zoo. Whether it’s in the backyard, camping, or on a walk in the park, kids have a knack for finding and identifying bugs. A mason jar with a few holes punched in the lid will do fine, and kids love to “design” a little environment for their creatures. Caterpillars, house spiders, and praying mantis are great “ambassador” species because they are very active. Once they have caught a bug, your kids can do a little research using their National Geographic for Kids periodicals, or the Audubon Society has great identification guides.

We really do owe it to our families to get them out of the chair and into the real world. It requires minimal preparation with expansive rewards. Our senses were built to engage with new experiences, and so you will find that kids take to nature like fish to water.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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