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How to get your child excited about nature

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Children are born with an innate curiosity about the natural world around them. How can we help them satisfy it?

By Greg Seaman Posted Feb 5, 2009

Parents need to teach children in a simple but deliberate way how to understand and interact with the natural environment. If this curiosity is not stimulated, it gradually dulls as the many distractions of modern life fill the child’s interest.

When a child becomes excited by nature, he/she gains access to its inherent rewards – inspiration, entertainment, comfort and perspective. As our modern life becomes more complex and over-stimulating, an appreciation of our natural world offers the child a gift that will last a lifetime.

Start when they’re young

First impressions are lasting impressions. Even babes in arms, birth – 6 months old, will respond with interest to the wonders of their natural environment. The first year or two of a child’s life is a special time when the child looks to the parent for guidance in all areas of learning. Seize the moment to instill in your child an interest and a reverence for nature.

As an example, when my children were babies I would take them to a quiet spot near the house before dinnertime to listen to the evening bird songs. As each bird gave its distinct call, I would simply say the name of the bird – varied thrush, grouse, towhee, robin, woodpecker…. Invariably, my child would be fixated in silence, concentrating on the attention we gave to the sounds of nature. Beyond the learning experience, these were precious moments, rewarding for both child and parent.

Go with them

Your participation is essential, as it underscores the importance of learning about our natural environment. As guide and mentor, your example sets the benchmark for your child’s level of interest in nature.

Begin by taking your child out in nature with just yourself. Avoid bringing your child’s friends along for the first few outings; children listen to their peers more than their parents and all it takes is one snicker from a friend saying ‘this is dumb’ to throw a wet blanket on your efforts.
Also, sending your child off to camp or school field trips is no guarantee that he/she will have a successful experience in wild nature. With children, social interactions can distract from their experience of nature.

Help them observe

Equip your child with the means to better explore and observe the natural world, from the miniature world of the insects to the local flora and fauna, and the swirling night sky constellations.

Binoculars/monocular

Give your child his/her own child-sized binocular for use during outings in nature. A monocular may be even preferable to binoculars for young children because a monocular is smaller, lightweight and easy to pack in a pocket or pack.

Journal

A sturdy, hard-bound journal with blank pages enables your child to keep a record of personal observations. Coloured pencils are also useful for nature drawings or bird sketches. As journal pages gradually fill with drawings and observations, the child gains a sense of pride and accomplishment which deepens the growing bond with nature.

Local wildlife books

Find a book which details the birds, mammals and wild flora specific to your locale. Reading a guide will greatly enhance your child’s outings. The children’s book section of the library will have lots to offer.

Topographical maps

Your town’s bookstore will likely have topographic maps of your area. Pin a large (poster-size) copy on a wall at home as a reference. The child can highlight areas explored or pin small numbers that correspond with pages in their journals. Over time, the child develops an intimate knowledge of the surrounding area and its wild attractions. It’s also useful to have a laminated copy of the topo map to bring along as a pocket guide during outings.

“How can we expect to preserve and protect biodiversity if we don’t even know the names of the plants and animals that share our neighbourhood?”

- Robert Bateman, wildlife artist

Let them lead

Although you may have a preset route to follow, give preference to the child’s interests. Follow their interests, and let your child set the pace. Keep the outing easy and fun. And, you may be surprised by what your child’s keen eye can teach you.

Encourage your child to be a ‘trophy’ hunter (by camera, of course!)

Keep a checklist of local wildlife and flora and try to “discover” them in the wild. Give your child a small camera to document their find, and mark it off on the checklist. By documenting their discovery, the child sees progress and can take pride in their accomplishment. Use copies of the child’s photos for Christmas cards to the relatives. This adds value to the child’s efforts.

Bring your child to a wildlife rehabilitation center

Many communities have wildlife shelters and recovery centers which provide the public with an opportunity to see local wildlife species close-up. This is also a chance for your child to see local people engaged in stewardship activities. These people are modeling to young people their dedication to wildlife.

Give your child an area to steward

Whether it’s a small wild corner of your yard, a child-sized section of a garden bed, or a nearby special spot in nature, give the child responsibility for its stewardship. For young children, this can be as simple as monitoring the changes in this area over the seasons, setting out seeds to help the birds in winter, or freshening the water in the birdbath. These seemingly small acts of stewardship instill the notion of individual responsibility for the care of our environment.

Older children can take on a task such as creating a backyard wildlife habitat, maintaining birdfeeders, or growing their own vegetable patch. It may be necessary to help the child get started, but know when to stand back and let the child take ownership.

With the threats facing our environment nearing a precipitous threshold, we must increase our efforts to teach our children the wonders of nature. This is our best assurance that they will make wise choices throughout their lives which benefit the environment and promote the values of sustainability for the benefit of all.

Greg Seaman is the founder of Eartheasy, and the father of two sons.

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  • http://www.snazzycat.com silver beads

    from childhood, take your kids camping, keep them away from the city life and have lots of animals around the house, that will surely get your kids more into nature, animals and over all a better person as they grow older.
    i have a 6 year old and we have been doing just that and he is very much into nature and loves all animals :)

  • Chuck

    We are lucky enough to have 1200 acres of “savanna” behind our house. Just this past Wednesday my 4-1/2 year old son and I (third annual trip) walked around the small pond near our yard and cleaned up the winters’ trash that had blown in. He was the one that was asking to go this year (I had to push back for a few days to let the area dry out from the melted snow). He was genuinely excited to pick up the bags, styrofoam, pop bottles, etc. And you never know what exciting treasure you’ll find. Last year we found a spotted turtle shell that had been vacated ;-) and he plays with that to this day. While doing all this we explored the natural world right outside our back door. And, yes, GO CAMPING!

  • LORELEI

    IF THEY ARE GIRLS, SIGN THEM UP FOR GIRL SCOUTS..I LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT NATURE BY GOING TO CAMP IN THE WOODS, NATURE HIKES, COLLECTING INSECTS, ETC.
    IT ISN T HARD TO GET YOUNG ONES INTERESTED UNLESS THEY ARE PRUDDIE GIRLS..YOU KNOW THE TYPE. Have them hike trails..we used to go to Turkey Run in Indiana..
    Also, I took my kids to the Kankakee State Park..we walked trails and they loved the swinging vines..
    Also, I have done scavenger hunts ,,,kids in a group with an adult
    Also, canoeing and rowing a boat..and observing nature that way also..use binoculars…etc.

  • Kathy P

    What a nice article. I did take my boys camping with other family members. When we started camping, we used tents, then a small pop up camper, and then a RV. My oldest son took his grandmother and her sister on a camping and fishing trip. He had a great time camping and fishing; and my son will always remember the time he spent with them camping. His grandmother past and that was her last trip.

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