laying outdoors is a fond childhood memory for most of us, but today’s kids are having a different experience. Our children spend more time inside than any other generation. This creates a disconnect with nature and removes opportunities for learning that can only happen outdoors.
Fortunately, it’s easy to remedy this. There are many ways to get your kids to unplug and head out into nature, even if you live in a city.
This is a great way to give kids a hands-on science adventure. Bug hunting teaches children that bugs aren’t icky but instead play beneficial roles in our ecosystem like pollination, soil aeration, and plant protection. Before heading out, go online or find a book with pictures of insects that bite or sting, so kids know which ones to avoid. Make sure they’re properly dressed and check for ticks when you get back inside.
There’s nothing like spending a crisp fall day outdoors. A leaf-peeping expedition is something the kids will look forward to. Again, they’ll get a science lesson while enjoying the fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine! Studying leaves helps kids learn about photosynthesis, transpiration, and respiration and how plants are necessary for the survival of all living things. And while your family is out in the foliage, you might stumble on a corn maze, apple orchard, or pumpkin patch to visit to make the day complete.
What kid hasn’t had a rock collection? Stones have fascinated children for years. They’re a great way to teach color and texture, as well as how to classify and identify objects. Children take great pride in learning the names of different types of rocks and going out to look for them. Rock collecting is also an opportunity to teach the little ones about erosion, fossils, and the very planet we live on, and how it came to be.
Hiking is a great cardio workout, but it also nurtures your child’s agility and balance. It sharpens observational and problem-solving skills and offers learning opportunities. Walking different types of trails teaches kids about different habitats, like swamps, meadows, and wooded areas. And nature hikes fulfill mom’s need to practice self-care, by providing physical activity – and maybe even a little fun!
Birding increases a child’s appreciation of nature and the animals that surround us. Birds come in all shapes and sizes, and the fact that they fly fascinates kids. They’ll learn how our feathered friends fit into the ecosystem, what they eat and how they reproduce. Bird watching also leads to discussions about migration, weather, and climate. Put a feeder or a birdbath in your backyard to give your children an even closer look at visiting fowl.
Flowers boost our spirits, literally. Their brilliance and aroma stimulate dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, the chemicals responsible for making us feel good. You don’t have to go far to teach your kids about plants. Head to the backyard and teach them the difference between food-bearing and flower-bearing plants. It’s also a great opportunity to teach the difference between wildflowers and those you find at the florist. Get your kids involved in taking care of the flowers in your garden and have them make comparisons between those and the blooms you see on your nature walks.
For an astronomy lesson, head out to the backyard one night with a blanket. Stargazing is an easy way to spend time outdoors while learning about space. Kids can learn to identify constellations, planets, and the moon and study the solar system. Stargazing helps children understand our planet’s seasons and why we have night and day. If your kids are really into it, you may even want to buy a telescope.
If your children are old enough to read and write, take a journal along on all of these excursions. If not, this is one-time technology and nature do mix. Bring an iPad and take pictures of what the kids are looking at. Later, you can further discuss the activities and create even more learning opportunities.
About the Author
Carmen Dexter is a former television journalist, mom, and teacher who enjoys growing her own organic food and recycling as much as possible.
We Want to Hear From You
What’s your favorite nature activity?