Kids, Nature, and Connecting

Let’s face it: Most kids and adults these days aren’t getting nearly enough nature time.  Even when we spend time outside, it’s often at a park made up of things created by man out of plastic and metal, or walking to work or to the store with earphones on listening to music or podcasts, or sitting out on a patio deck enjoying a beer at the end of the day.  Not that any of these things are bad – heck, they’re preferable to sitting inside staring at a screen, but they certainly aren’t ways to really connect with nature and your kids together.

If we want our kids to appreciate nature, it means we have to help expose them to how amazing it is.  In addition to the idea of appreciation, spending time in nature actually helps our overall well-being, helping to calm and centre us.  It's a win-win scenario if you can make it work.  There are the obvious ways that happen once in a while, like going for a hike through the woods, or a picnic in a forest, but for most families these are occasions, not regular occurrences.  So how do we find the time in our busy schedules to help bring our kids – and ourselves – closer to nature without driving ages or having to plan it well in advance?

Bug Hunts

This is one of my daughter’s favourite activities and I admit I have started to thoroughly enjoy it myself.  It can take up as much or as little space outside as you choose and you can go for 10 minutes or an hour.  The point is to find as many bugs as you can, noticing the habitats you find them in and talking about what that may mean for the bugs themselves.  We live in a city and still can find tons of spiders, ants, roley-polies, snails, butterflies, moths, bees, and wasps, and a few beetles and other surprise bugs to boot.  Some kids will want to keep track of these bugs, some may want to take pictures and catalogue them, but all kids will enjoy the hunt.  A special recommendation: Go out at dusk or even at night for one outing, bringing a light if needed.  Your child may be amazed at some of the nighttime bugs there are.

Cataloguing Trees

Have you ever noticed how many different types of tree you can see in your own neighbourhood?  Where I am – again, in the middle of a city – I’m amazed at the variety.  Going for walks with a tree book, or perhaps better yet, taking leaf samples to analyze later is one way to get you out with your kids hunting down the variety of trees you see.  Going at different times of year can teach your kids about how well (or not well) the various trees do in different seasons.  Again, you can take 10 minutes and go down one block, or take a day and go around the city collecting leaves.  Once you identify the trees around you, watch your child (and yourself) spend more time being aware of the wildlife around you.

(Note, the same type of cataloguing can be done for flowers too, but please don’t pick other people’s flowers.  I recommend a camera for this one.)

Plant a Garden, Even a Box Garden

One of the surest ways to get close to nature is to work with your child to actually grow something.  If you have a backyard this becomes easy, but even if you live in an apartment, you can get a small box garden that fits on a windowsill or a patio if you have it (and you may luck out with fewer animals coming to eat what you grow).  You’ll need to be aware of weather conditions and planting times to pick the right thing to grow, but the experience of learning about all the different conditions that need to be met – both at planting and beyond – is an amazing way for a child to appreciate nature.  Of course, if you pick something edible, it’s also an amazing way to see how we get our food and the importance of looking at where our food comes from.

What are your ways to quickly and easily connect with nature and your kids?  What kinds of activities do you do and have you found it’s made a difference in how your child approaches nature?

By Tracy Cassels

August 25, 2014