In today’s digital age, families are spending more time inside and less time exploring nature. Studies show that kids who spend time outside have better overall health and fitness levels, report better vision, less stress and depression, and are more likely to have good social skills. The National Wildlife Federation also reports that “spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues.” As kids spend more and more time watching TV and playing video games on a daily basis, only about 10% of kids say they are spending time outdoors every day (www.nature.org). If your kids fall into the 90% of children that don’t get out every day, here are some fun ways to change that.
Become a Nature Artist
Kids will begin to notice the beauty in nature if they are observing it from an artist’s standpoint. Bring the easel and art supplies out to the backyard and have the kids paint or draw what they see around them. Let the kids try their hand at photography, while exploring nature by photographing plants, insects, and the landscape around them. Later, make a scrapbook or frame their masterpieces.
Dress the kids in play clothes and give them permission to enjoy nature, even if they get a little dirty, suggests Julie Keller, mother of three. Allow kids to dig for worms, lift rocks, find insects, and try fishing. Teach kids about gardening while letting them plant flowers, vegetables, and other plants. Ally McDaniel, Kansas mom, says, “My four-year-old loves to help plant, dig in dirt, and water the garden. We look for worms, bugs, and baby snakes.” Kids that grow up planting and gardening develop a lifelong positive relationship with plants and trees (www.childrenandnature.org).
Collect some old pillows and blankets, bring them outside, and get comfortable. Darcy King, mother of two, says, “I teach my kids to enjoy nature by enjoying it myself. Stop and admire flowers, sunsets, scenery, and spend time outside.” Simply spending time in the great outdoors can help kids grow to love nature. Observe your surroundings and talk about what you see and hear. Read a book, take a nap, and observe the cloud shapes. A great book for encouraging creativity when looking at cloud shapes is It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw.
Have a Picnic
Pack a picnic and enjoy a meal outside after a hike, at a local park, or even in your own backyard. Without the distractions of the normal surroundings of your home, conversation will be easier and more fun.
Allow kids to take their time as you are on a nature walk. Do you see any flowers, insects, or birds you have not noticed before? If the park allows it, collect treasures as you walk the trails. Have the children pick up sticks, rocks, leaves, or anything of interest. “We make it into a game. When we go on walks, we collect small things to put in our nature jars. One time we even did a scavenger hunt after dark with a flashlight, which was a big hit,” says Rachael Kennedy, mother of five.
Camping is a great way to spend time outdoors as a family. A family campout, whether at a local park or in your backyard, encourages family bonding time and helps kids “unplug” from their electronics and enjoy the fresh air.
One of the most important things to remember when you are trying to teach your kids is to model it yourself. “We try to get out and explore together. I try to just let them be in nature and really experience what exists,” says Sara Sinani, mother of three boys. Get involved, and show the kids by example that nature is fun to explore and has great health benefits. If kids grow up spending time outside, they are sure to develop a desire to spend more time outdoors as they grow.
Attending events is another way you can encourage your child to enjoy nature. Here are a few happening in Central New York this month:
Junior Naturalist Walk. 10-11:30 a.m. & 1-2:30 p.m.
Each month, families can enjoy themed walks and nature activities. Rice Creek Field Station, 193 Thompson Rod, Oswego. Free. (315) 312-6677. oswego.edu/rice-creek.
Nature Journaling. 1-2:30 p.m. Attendees ages 7 and up can go on a hike – and draw the animals and plants that they see. Great Swamp Conservancy, 8375 N. Main St., Canastota. $3 donation encouraged. (315) 697-2950. greatswampconservancy.org.
April 12 & 26
Sharing Nature with Your Child. 11 a.m.-noon. Preschoolers, accompanied by an adult, can take part in outdoor and nature-related activities. Beaver Lake Nature Center, 8477 E. Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville. $7/child; $5/vehicle. Registration required. (315) 638-2519. onondagacountyparks.com.
Check out the full April issue below!