Kids who learn to appreciate nature will carry their passion through life

Tips to encourage young people to get out of the house

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, Sept 1, 2011.

Courtesy North American Precis Syndicate Inc.

Connecting with nature offers many rewards for children.

Spending time outside gives kids a chance to exercise in the open air, engage all their senses of perception and enjoy the simple pleasure of being outdoors.

Introducing children to nature can be easy and fun for the whole family. Here are a few tips.

•Start in the backyard. Children’s first introduction to nature can start at home. Even small children can dig a hole, hunt for bugs, plant sunflower seeds and watch them grow, or help fill a bird feeder and watch the flocks come to feed. Parents can plant flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds then ask kids to notice when insect or bird visitors arrive.

•Take a nature walk. Start preschoolers with a trip to a park or nature reserve and take note of the flowers, insects and animals. If no one can identify the plants or animals, take a picture and try to research them online at home. Some nature reserves offer guided walks, which are great for older children.

Next, try short hikes. Be sure the child has a pair of sturdy shoes. Wearing two pairs of socks—a thin nylon liner close to the foot and a thicker, heavier pair on the outside—may help prevent blisters.

Hikes are fun but a child could become bored if there isn’t anything going on for a long time. Engage them by playing games such as “I Spy” and challenge them to collect leaves, stones or twigs to help them relate to the nature around them.

Bring nature to the craft table. Collect items found on nature explorations to create crafts that will bring the outside in.

For example, dried flowers and leaves can be used to make place mats or picture frames. Rocks can be decorated and transformed into paperweights.

Take the kids camping: When introducing camping, try to keep the first trip short— about two nights— and keep travel time to the site as short as possible.

Before going, show children a DVD about camping so they know what to expect.

•Teach children to respect nature and leave a small footprint. It’s fun to catch fish, but check size requirements and throw back fish that are too small. Collect fireflies in a jar but release them at the end of the adventure. Help children remember to clean up after themselves and not litter.
•Subscribe to a nature magazine. Nature periodicals can teach children about different aspects of nature and help keep them interested during the colder months when it’s not as easy to spend time outside.
• Look up. Teach children about the planets and the constellations. Take a lawn chair outside some nights and look up at the stars or plan a picnic at dusk and watch the sun go down. The changing sky offers a fascinating show.
•Take a child to the seashore at low tide. Point out a few tide pools, give kids a bucket and let them go. Then have fun discussing everything they bring back.
•Plan a visit to a children’s or petting zoo. Children love the opportunity to see animals in their natural habitat and have a chance to pet or feed them. It’s another wonderful way to spend time outdoors together.
• Visit natural history museums. These museums offer information about ecological systems and various animals. They often have special exhibits and play areas specifically for young children.

Teaching children to love the natural world around them can be one of the best gifts a parent can give them.

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