I’ve always loved being out in nature. The rustle of leaves, the sight of wildflowers, and the fresh taste of spring air make my heart sing. I feel close to God when I look up at a starry sky or glide across a lake of glass in a canoe.
But kids don't always know how to slow down and appreciate the world around them.
Not all children have learned to love and appreciate nature yet. Imaginative moments in meadows or by woodland streams sometimes get passed by for video games or organized sports on artificial turf. But the good news is there are many ways parents can cultivate a love for creation at home in the everyday moments of interacting with the natural world.
Inspiring an awe for nature in children doesn’t require acres of open prairie or lakeshore property. You can pay attention to the details of nature anywhere.
Here are 10 ideas for noticing nature with children:
Pay attention to what kids are noticing.
Kids are naturals at noticing things in nature. When they stop to pick a clover or crouch down to watch ants crawling along the sidewalk, kneel down next to them. Ask them what they see. Wonder together about what you’re witnessing.
Pull the car over.
If you’re on a quiet street or country road and you see deer standing in the ditch or a field of sunflowers or a particularly large tree, pull over. Sit in silence and watch or get out and explore. It’s okay not to be in a hurry.
Go on hikes.
Look for parks and trails in your city and explore them as a family. Make enjoying nature a part of your family culture, with different outdoor activities depending on the season. Go hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, or even picnicking together. These experiences will strengthen your family bond and renew your appreciation for the great outdoors.
Take a vacation.
Next time you’re planning a family vacation, consider camping or visiting a national park. Focusing your vacation on the outdoors will teach kids that nature is a place for rest and fun.
Plant a vegetable or flower garden, whether in your yard, a window box, or a pot on your patio. Give your kids the chance to water, weed, and harvest the plants. Watch the plants grow, and marvel together at creation in action.
Be an example.
Kids grow up to value the things their caregivers value, so set a good example by getting out into nature yourself. When kids see adults exclaiming over a turtle or skipping rocks on a lake, they’re more likely to follow.
Read books about nature.
Choose books to read that showcase the beauty of nature and the fun that can be had in it. Even before bed or on rainy days when you’re stuck indoors, these books will remind kids of the greatness found outside. Two of our favorites nature-themed books are For the Beauty of the Earth and Once Upon Another Time.
Set limits on inside time.
Similar to setting limits on screen time, parents can limit the time kids spend indoors. Even if it’s cold out, encourage children to play outside. You may face resistance at first, but once they’re out there making their own fun, the trick will be getting them to come back in!
If your kid is a daydreamer or a wanderer or a tree climber, encourage it! Nature is not something to be feared. Let them touch the bugs that make you squirm or climb the rock that makes you worry a little. Let them test their limits and discover things for themselves.
Start a collection.
Press autumn leaves and glue them to a notebook. Collect colorful rocks from the river in a jar. Take pictures of the bugs you discover that bring you joy, and make a photo album. Take that “perfect” walking stick home that you found on a hike. These collections are tangible reminders of good memories and of the awe you felt the first time you came across that particular object.
Dig deep into your creative side to enjoy and appreciate nature in ways that are unique and personal to you and the kids in your life. Have fun!
Originally Published 9/1/2015