Kids are naturally drawn to the outdoors. This fascination provides parents and educators with teaching opportunities to help children care for nature.
According to the latest research, spending more time outside promotes more sustainable and environmentally-friendly behavior in children. So the more connected to nature a child is, the more likely they are to take environmentally conscious actions— and the happier they feel.
You can ignite a child’s desire to give back to nature (in super fun ways) with these basic outdoor activities:
We love taking our nieces and nephews hiking at a nearby park or preserve. Hiking is an easy, inexpensive, and totally carbon footprint-free way of introducing kids to the great outdoors. We find that going on a hike is not just beneficial to their health, but it improves their perception of nature – especially when we introduce lessons about nature along the way. Our niece loves to name ants and find flowers. And our nephew gets excited about seeing larger animals like deer and raccoons. We bring along a bag and pick up trash along the way. When hiking, you can go the extra mile by bringing treelings and planting them in special spots, teaching kids the importance of reforestation. It really pays to help kids see what happens to the outdoors when it’s protected. Over time, this practice has instilled a sense of ownership. Now they hate seeing trash anywhere outdoors.
When heading outdoors, it’s convenient to drive to our destination. But sometimes we challenge our family to give back to nature by biking there instead. Making it a fossil-fuel-free trip helps the environment and allows us to get a little more exercise. Getting the kids involved in planning out our route ahead of time and taking advantage of family-friendly bike lanes and bike paths make it even more fun. Kids love dirt. So why not bike in it? Our niece and nephew have loved mountain biking from a young age. Beginner trails are abundant in many places, and there are great apps like Trailforks to see what’s closest to you. Not only is mountain biking a great workout, but it’s also a great way to experience nature up close and personal. No bikes? No problem. You can rent a bike online in over 35 top outdoor destinations. For kids and adults, choosing the eco-friendly option to protect Mother Nature speaks volumes.
We recently took our nephew camping for the first time, and it was all he could talk about for weeks. Camping is such a great family activity. It awakens children’s love for adventure and nature. Spending their first night in a tent outdoors is an unforgettable experience for kids.Taking some time away from cities and gadgets allows adults to feel like kids again. Our nephew loved eating dinner with us around the fire and then listening to the sounds of nature as he fell asleep in the tent. During our camping trip, we talked about ways to help protect nature – and the trip helped boost his desire to protect it.
Set Up an Outdoor Compost
With an increasing number of people on a mission to protect the Earth, finding information on how to do that has never been easier. For example, Google the term “compost bin” and numerous how-to resources will pop up. Initially, composting may not sound like the most exciting idea, but it’s an effective way of teaching kids about responsibility and resourcefulness, with some science thrown in. Our niece and nephew love to be involved in the process. We let them help by gathering dried leaves or adding water to the compost. They also make sure to place all of their compostable food items in a separate bin. We plan to use the compost to help build a garden. We also make sure to talk to them about all of the different benefits of composting — from creating a habitat for small animals and insects to diverting waste from landfills.
When we walk along many beaches, it’s not hard to find trash lining the shores. This only seems to be getting worse, so we have started involving the kids in the solution. Before hitting the water, we challenge them to pick up as much trash as they can. We make it a scavenger hunt that provides so much entertainment that they sometimes they forget all about the water. So, next time you head to the beach, don’t forget the garbage bags and gloves!
Not every walk needs to be a hike. Nature walks can take place anytime and anywhere. We find that we don’t need to go far to introduce nature to our young learners. We frequently visit a nearby park, trail system or even just our yard to start the nature discoveries. We bring a magnifying glass to observe plants, insects or rocks up close while maintaining a respectful distance and invite the kids to share their discoveries. During our nature walks, we pose such questions as, “How can I help animals and plants?” Incorporating these questions into the walk shifts their focus from simply looking to really observing and thinking about their impact on the natural world.
Arts & Crafts
Helping Mother Nature can involve arts and crafts, too! Reusing materials to make crafts is a great way to teach kids about reduce-reuse-recycle, and how important each of these concepts is. Our niece loves making projects out of recycled materials and is always looking for inspiration in leftover product packaging or gift wrapping paper. We’ve used such such materials to make animals, birdhouses, robots, and dog toys. Kids can never be too young when it comes to caring for the environment. Help your kids to love and respect the great outdoors with these meaningful activities that give back to nature.
Photo Credits: Julie Singh
Additional Reading and Resources
NATURE CONNECTIONS: How a Summer Camp Helps Kids Connect with Nature and Each Other
BEHOLD THE EARTH: An Interview with Film Director David Conover
GETTING THE KIDS OUTSIDE: Oregon Shares the Secret to Outdoor Education for All
YOUR CHILD’S GREATEST CLASSROOM: Nature’s Role in the Development of Character and Spirituality in Children
CELEBRA LAS AVES: A New Generation of Bird Enthusiasts in Peru
VITAMIN N: 500 Ways to Enrich Your Family’s Health & Happiness