We are part of nature – it is essential that we be connected to the natural world.  My previous blog post discussed the numerous physical and mental health benefits that nature provides – for us and for our children.  There is another reason why it is crucial that we connect our kids to nature.

“The future of our parks rests in the hands of our kids.”

This quote jumped out at me while I was reading a National Geographic article. I never thought about this until now.  I know that we need to protect nature but I never considered that I need to pass this on to my son.  By teaching him about the amazing benefits that nature provides and how to care for nature, I am passing along the respect needed to ensure that nature remains protected even when I am gone.

While I was reading about the benefits of nature for my previous blog, I ran across a newsletter published by NAEYC about the benefits of nature on children.  One line really stood out to me.

“How can children care about nature if they haven’t experienced it firsthand?”

The future of our parks and other wild places lies in the hands of our kids and it is our job as parents, grandparents, and caregivers to teach them about nature so they understand why and how to protect it.  So how do we do it?

When I think about spending time in nature, my first thought is a hike or camping trip.  I get overwhelmed thinking about packing, finding a location appropriate for a young child, planning activities, taking the time to get to the hiking or camping location and the cost of the trip.  But connecting with nature doesn’t have to be this involved.  In later blog posts, I’ll explore some kid-friendly camping areas but for now I want to share some simple ways I have found to connect with nature.

Activities

Here are 9 simple ways to help your child connect with nature.

  1. Go out to your front or back yard – This is the easiest, most obvious option. There’s no cost and you don’t have to go anywhere.  One of my son’s favorite activities is playing with the garden hose.  He gets wet and muddy (and usually I do too!) but he has a wonderful time, gets exercise and is spending time outside.  We bought water guns for Father’s Day and had a really fun family water fight outside.  My son also likes to bring his toy cars outside and play while we watch him.
  1. Take a walk around your neighborhood – We take evening walks, usually after dinner. This is great for us, our son and our dog.  This is something that we all enjoy.  We get the benefits of being outside, exercising and spending quality time together as a family.

These first two suggestions are great if you have a yard or live in an area that is good for walking – sidewalks, well-lit and so on.  But if you don’t, no problem.  There are places to go around your town or close by that are either free or low cost.

  1. Visit a city park – If you are new to an area or haven’t spent much time outside, that’s okay. Most cities have a Parks and Recreation Department or something similar that will provide a list of the city parks.  Here is the link to Denver Parks & Rec.  My son loves going to the playground.  We swing, slide and climb all around on the jungle gym.  It wears us both out! Parks typically also have sidewalks so even if you don’t want to play, this is a good option.  Just a little side note I wanted to add – I highly recommend swinging, even as an adult. It’s really fun!
  1. Find a nearby walking trail – You should be able to find out if your town or city has any walking trails by visiting the Parks and Rec Department or checking in with the local college or university if your town has one. As we are becoming more knowledgeable about the benefits to nature, more and more towns are creating walking trails.  We found an awesome trail at the University of West Florida that goes out over a bayou.  This has become one of our favorite outdoor activities!
  1. Visit the zoo –This is interesting for both the natural landscapes typically found in zoos and for the animals. The Denver zoo is open year-round.  For a large group, the cost could be a bit high but the zoo offers various discounts and has several free days each year.
  1. Take a day trip to a nature center – There are 8 nature centers in the Denver area. These centers are geared towards education and promote conservation of the natural areas.  This is a great way to spend the day with the kids.

All the tips discussed so far work well when the weather cooperates.  In Colorado, there are times in the winter that it is just too cold to spend much time outside.  In Florida, the summers are so hot and humid that being outside at times is miserable.  So here are some options when the weather outside just doesn’t allow for much outdoor time.

  1. Visit a natural history museum – You’ll have to check on one in your area, but many natural history museums include displays in climate controlled atmospheres which are not impacted by adverse weather. For example, the museum near us has an indoor butterfly rainforest exhibit with butterflies and birds from around the world, along with other animals like fish and turtles.  Plants, flowers, and waterfalls surround the exhibit.
  1. Take a trip to an indoor greenhouse – This is another great option for poor weather. You get the experience of walking through nature without being subjected to the extreme temperatures.  A benefit of this option is that you can find a houseplant to take home and bring nature into your home.
  1. Spend the day at an aquarium – Denver’s aquarium is indoors and is open year-round. The Downtown Aquarium offers many educational programs such as Marine Biologist for a Day and Sea Safari Summer Camp to engage the entire family.  Children can connect with nature while learning about the animals and their natural habitats.

Summary

For ourselves, for our children, and for future generations, it is crucial that we teach our children to value, respect and protect nature.  By incorporating nature into our children’s lives, we help them connect with the natural world.  There are many simple ways to do this.

Stay tuned for my next post about ways to connect with nature in your home.

If you do any of these activities or have ideas not included here, please let me know if the comments! We’d love to hear from you!