One of the things we love to do as a family is get out in nature. It’s not always easy to find the time, but it’s always worthwhile. In our area, the weather is good enough to get outdoors much of the year – we’re more likely to have too hot weather than too cold or too wet. Any time that the weather permits in your area is a good time to teach your kids to love nature.
The key is to make it fun whenever possible. Kids don’t need a lecture on enjoying nature. They need to be allowed to have fun in nature and develop a love for it from the things they’ve done in nature.
Teaching your kids to love nature doesn’t require a curriculum. It doesn’t require a lot of supplies. It only requires your time and participation. You can spend money on some things, such as gardening, but many other things can be done for free.
And remember, getting dirty is good for kids!
1. Let them dig.
Kids love to get dirty. Letting them dig in the dirt will encourage them to get out and play.
My sister let her kids dig what turned into a full on trench in their backyard. It was several feet long and probably 3 feet deep. All the kids loved it, and my kids helped when they came over.
Pick a part of your yard that you don’t mind having destroyed and let the kids go at it. Make sure they aren’t going to hit anything important such as buried irrigation pipes and such. If they get good at it, they might be able to help you dig things up for a garden. Speaking of which…
2. Plant fruits.
If you have the space in your yard, plant fruit trees and bushes. Strawberries are good if you only have a little room, as you can grow them in containers. Consider what grows well in your area as well as what your family likes.
If you can’t grow anything because you don’t have the space or inclination, take the family to a local apple orchard or other places that allows people to pick fruit. You’ll get the experience of picking fresh fruit right off the tree without all the work that comes with owning a garden.
3. Plant vegetables.
What vegetables do your kids like? Growing them in your yard often encourages kids to eat more of them, including some vegetables they don’t like otherwise. Homegrown is so much more interesting and tasty than anything you can get in the store.
4. Plant a butterfly garden
This was the first year that we’ve had a deliberate butterfly garden in our yard. It was a massive success, considering how little we did. We planted one milkweed plant along with some other butterfly-friendly flowers. We have butterflies out there daily.
The single milkweed was a huge mistake. We should have planted more. We decided to buy more when the already well-chewed milkweed plant had at least 15 monarch caterpillars on it, and no leaves or flowers left.
Our yard had so many butterflies this year. Monarchs, swallowtails, skippers, buckeyes and several others we didn’t see close enough to identify. One of the monarch caterpillars even built its chrysalis on our house, so we were able to watch it develop. Next year, more butterfly friendly plants will be in our garden to encourage even more to come.
It’s easy to plant a butterfly garden. Many of the flowers grow well from seed, or you can buy the plants already grown. I like seeds because they’re so cheap, but there are times buying a plant makes sense.
5. Be excited about nature yourself.
How are your kids supposed to get excited about nature if it doesn’t excite you? Show them how much you enjoy nature.
6. Have a picnic.
A picnic is such an easy way to enjoy a bit of nature. A bit of food, a blanket, and some reusable dishes, and you’re ready to go. Go out and find a pretty spot or just head out to the backyard.
Geocaching is a great way to combine getting outdoors with a treasure hunt. The caches are usually hidden well enough that you have to be very observant to find it. That’s good when you want the kids to really look around.
We love going out for family hikes. It’s not hard to find a natural area to go hiking in most areas. Sometimes you can find places that aren’t all that well known but have really beautiful scenery.
9.Check out scat.
Don’t just be grossed out when you see animal poop in the yard. Take some time to find out what left it. You and your kids will learn a lot about the animals in your area.
If you really want to get into it, you can order owl pellets online. They’re a great way to learn about what owls eat.
10. Identify birds, bugs, and wildlife.
What wildlife do you see around you? It can be fun to take a little time as a family to learn to identify the birds, bugs, and wildlife that live around you. Kids are naturally enthusiastic about living creatures, making this an easy way to teach your kids to love nature.
A bug vacuum can be a help in identifying bugs. Kids can get a really good look at bugs when they’re in the container. You may need to keep a bit of an eye on them – my son got stung by a bee when he was little because he thought it was calm enough in the container that he could hold the bee in his hand.
Don’t show fear when you can help it. My kids were nervous the time we had a bee swarm rest in our yard for a few hours, but that’s one of the best times to closely observe bees because they don’t have a hive to protect.
11. Collect rocks.
Most kids love rocks and have very interesting perspectives on what makes a rock worth taking home. It’s usually not what an adult would pick. That doesn’t matter – it’s the interest in rocks you want to encourage.
When you’re at a place where they’re allowed to collect rocks, let your kids have some fun with it. It doesn’t matter how nice the rock looks. Any rock can be something to talk about or just admire.
12. Play in the mud.
Yes, kids playing in the mud is messy, but it’s so much fun for them. Be ready to clean them off part of the way while they’re still outdoors. Your drains will be happier if you don’t get too much dirt down them all at once.
We’ve had the occasional mud mishap with my kids. One time my oldest was making some mud to play in and didn’t know that the hose was on the jet setting. The backsplash got her right away. It was cute and messy.
13. Go to the beach.
The beach is a lot of fun to go to as a family. The precautions you have to take will depend on the ages of your kids, how well they swim, and conditions at the beach. But even if you just stay and play on the shore, it’s a lot of fun.
Better yet is when the beach has tidepools. It’s so much fun to explore tidepools with children. Sea anemones are always a hit – just make sure the kids are super gentle with them. Spotting tiny fish, crabs and even the occasional octopus can be even more exciting.
14. Do art outdoors.
I love it when my kids want to do art outdoors. It doesn’t matter if it’s sidewalk chalk, painting on the easel, collecting leaves for a project or whatever they want to do. Keeping the art outdoors helps control the mess in the house and gets the kids to realize how much fun they can have outside.
15. Take nature photos together.
Children love to use cameras. These days it’s easy to let them use the one on your phone to take pictures when they see something interesting outside. The perspective of a child can make for some wonderful photographs. There will be a lot of awful ones too, but that’s how you learn to use a camera.
16. Climb rocks and trees.
My kids love climbing rocks and trees. One of their favorite day trips is to head out to Joshua Tree and climb on some of the boulders out there. They’ll go at it as long as we let them.
Always make sure they climb safely. Teach them to look for trees that should support their weight well. Help them learn how to be safe when climbing rocks or trees by considering not only how they’re going to get up, but how they will get down. Down is usually more difficult.
17. Ride bikes.
Bike riding is a great way to get kids out in the neighborhood. It’s great for their independence. They’ll learn a lot getting out there. Keep their range appropriate to their ages, competence, and the neighborhood.
18. Go camping.
Camping will expose your family to nature in a really wonderful way. You don’t have to go far – backyard camping is great for getting the family used to the idea when you have small children. As you get more experienced, you can camp in more interesting and beautiful places. The experience is worthwhile for the entire family.
19. Participate in a beach or park cleaning.
How do the beaches and parks look in your area? Do they need a good cleanup?
You may be able to participate in a formal cleanup day at your local beach or park, or you can clean up on your own. Bring trash bags and gloves, and help your local park or beach look better.
20. Talk and listen as you teach your kids to love nature.
Talk to your kids about nature. Show you care.
But when you talk, you also need to listen. If they want to talk about something they saw outside, let them tell you all about it. Kids need to know that you find their perspectives interesting. When you want to teach your kids to love nature, it helps to let them tell you about it.