It’s in a kids nature to run around and explore the outdoors. I see this in my two year old granddaughter every day. She can’t wait to get outside. She wonders at anthills, the whispering trees, soaring birds, cackling squirrels–all of it. It offers no end of delights. But, we can extinguish a love for nature, for the outdoors, if we’re not careful. And, playing outside offers so many benefits. In addition, if you check out the Children and Nature Network, you’ll find all sorts of scholarly research about mental health and academic benefits. So, how can we raise a generation of children who care about Creation? It’s definitely not the way we might think. Here are my favorite kids nature must-haves for a love of the outdoors.
Favorite Kids Nature Must-Haves
Get them out to natural places.
The first must-have seems really simple and obvious. Just take them to the park, right? Umm, yes and no. Most parks are a maze of climbing, swinging, and jumping equipment situated on some recycled rubber material. They are usually set up near schools or in the middle of a neighborhood. While they are indeed outdoors (and that’s definitely good), these places are not exactly kids nature parks.
As Richard Louv talks about in his book, Nature Deficit Disorder, kids need to get to wild places. Zoos, city parks, and the like are definitely better than nothing (and if that’s what you’ve got, get there as often as possible). But the wild woods, mountains, and prairies are best. And, the younger, the better. When we get there, we need to back off and let them explore, which leads to my next point.
Leave them alone!
Obviously, I don’t mean abandon them, but we do need to just let them do their thing. We need to allow them to climb trees. Yes, they might fall, but if they can get themselves up there, they can probably get themselves safely down. We need to let them jump off the rocks and gather twigs, pinecones, and leaves. Following squirrels, snakes, and insects might teach them something we can’t teach. The worst thing we can do is only allow them to engage with nature from behind clear plastic walls. Or, hover over them, yelling, “Get off there! Don’t touch that! Stop climbing! You’re going to hurt yourself. You’re hurting the trees.” Etc. Etc. Believe me. You’re not hurting any tree by climbing on it.
Children care about things with which they have a relationship. If we don’t allow them to develop a deep bond with nature, we cannot expect them to care enough to steward it well. It saddens me that today’s children don’t know the names of the trees in their own neighborhood. They no longer rub dandelion flowers under each other’s chins and yell, “butter finger!” But, they do know the names of the most popular video games! Most kids don’t even know where food comes from.
Give kids nature tools for deeper exploration
When we take them out, it helps if they have a magnifying glass, a bug house, an underwater viewer, binoculars, and other exploration tools. It’s frustrating to kids when they go into the woods and hear birds far up in the trees but not be able to see them. Or, they go to the local creek and never get a chance to see what lives in there other than little tadpoles maybe. Help them really see Creation! Otherwise, they just take strolls and think it’s simple and boring. Then they start nagging you to get home so they can play their video game again. They need to see the intricacies and complexities of life and that nature is never the same thing twice. And, speaking of complexity, give them the tools to discover the secrets of the trees and plants that grow in your area. It’s not just a sea of green! And there’s more to know than just “watch out for poison ivy.” One tool you could easily give them is a set of nature journaling pages to record their findings and observations. Grab these.
Leave the worksheets at home
It’s okay to have purpose to your explorations, but don’t go to the woods just so you can complete some printable worksheet exercises. I like to do casual scavenger hunts or I spy activities. Or, “Hey, it snowed. Let’s see whose tracks we can find.” We often kept nature notebooks so we could track when and where we found stuff. And, the kids occasionally made nice drawings of their finds or something they saw that really struck them. But, we never took any twaddly worksheets. Those types of papers suck the joy out of kids’ nature explorations. Instead of sparking curiosity and discovery, nature becomes the dreaded chore to complete.