Ten Ways to Help Your Child Connect with Nature
1) Notice It!
The first step is for you to start noticing nature yourself – if you notice and remark on nature, then there is a greater chance your children will too. So, when you open your door and go outside in the morning, don’t just rush to the car/bus/train/work/school – pause for a moment. What’s the weather like? Can you hear any birds? What kinds of birds are they? What time of year is it? Are there freshly bloomed flowers/blossoming trees, the crunch underfoot of fallen leaves? The squelch of mud/splash of a puddle? Is the air warm, or can you see your breath as you exhale into the icy cold air? Noticing nature around you and talking about the changes/asking questions about what you see will promote learning.
2) Visit It!
Start close to home and get the children in your life into nature more often. It might be the local park, the school grounds, or your garden. Or at weekends visit a beach, or a forest, a public garden, a National Trust property … Even a few minutes a day is a good start! The key here is to show nature as the fun, funky, wondrous, exciting and much preferred option for playtime. It might take a bit of setting up – take a ball for a game, take a jam jar to collect things in, take a kite, a book about insects (how many can we find?). Take photos. Do homework in the garden, climb a tree, make a camp…
3) Invite It
You can make simple bird feeders, birdhouses, and birdbaths to encourage birds to your garden or your window. You can sow wild flowers in your garden, or in a window box, which attract native insects and bees. If you are adventurous and have the space, you could make a home for ladybirds. The RSPB give a free ‘20 ways to give nature a home‘ pack. You’ll be surprised by the numbers of cool creatures that will visit if you invite them in!
4) Make It
A few years ago, Wired magazine published an article called, “The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” Readers were surprised to learn that rather than high-tech games, the list consists of: (1) stick, (2) box, (3) string, (4) tubes, and (5) dirt. What do all of these toys have in common? All of them qualify as “loose parts,” that is things with no designated role. In other words, such toys can be adapted to suit an almost infinite range of purposes, limited only by children’s imaginations. Make a den, a mud kitchen…
5) Eat It
One of the most powerful ways to connect children with nature is to raise their awareness about food. Take the children out to a nearby working farm so that they can see plants, vegetables, pigs, chickens, and cows being raised for food. Take them to a sheep farm around lambing time. Get them to watch a tractor as it ploughs a field, or a combine harvester as it gathers a crop. Why are there lots of birds following the tractor? You could grow a small herb garden in a large pot, or potatoes in a bag – this is a great site for advice on this and generally for growing veggies with children. Go to a ‘pick your own’ farm and hopefully, watch them begin to love eating their fruit and veggies. Go on a picnic or eat supper in the garden. Involving children in the making, mixing and baking is always a winner too!
6) Photograph It
Give your child something to take photos with, camera, phone, iPad … Show them how to take a photo, how not to take too many, how to delete any they are not happy with. Some great tips on this can be found here. Give them a subject ‘Leaves’, ‘Patterns’, or just let them photograph an aspect of nature that interests them. Build up a ‘nature’ album or display and invite friends and relatives to look at it.
7) Read It
One of the greatest predictors of children’s reading abilities is whether their parents read to them daily. Go to your library and select stories about animals and nature, fairy stories and other tales full of amazing places and magical creatures. Look at books of farming in other countries – How is it different to where you live?
8) Draw It
Take notepads/paper/pens/pencils/paint outside. What can you see? Can you draw it? What colour is it? The more you talk about what you can see, the better the detail. If it’s a rainy day, or your child is poorly you could ‘bring the outside in’ with flowers/stones/weeds/cones/shells … and create a ‘still life’ drawing or painting. Paint with leaves or twigs instead of brushes or paint with mud instead of paint – the possibilities are endless. Collect artwork and display it, or make a ‘Nature’ book – have an ‘Exhibition of the children’s work.
9) Feel It
This might be hard for some parents, but you need to embrace the fact that engaging with nature is a messy, dirty business – let them get down and dirty, explore, poke, squish, splash, mix, feel, smell, taste. And remember that for free play to be truly free, children must be the bosses. So, sit back and let them run the show and, if you do engage, be sure to follow rather than lead. Encourage children to create their own imaginative games and activities using natural elements like rocks, logs, water, and sticks. These help children’s imaginations, as well as their bodies, to run free and be creative.
10) In the Night Garden
There is, especially for children, something really different and exciting about being outdoors at night, whether it’s in the garden, on a beach, in a wood – and of course, different creatures come out after the sun goes down. Give them torches and glow sticks and let them explore. Go camping – pitch a tent in your back garden! Look at the stars, listen to the sounds… tell each other stories.