Teaching Kids About Nature
Every week brings headlines about growing erosion in our nation’s school children’s access to nature. This is an alarming problem, and one that won’t go away unless we do something about it. Whether or not you agree with my stance on privatization, it’s obvious that if kids can’t enjoy nature, they won’t be able to truly be aware of the environment in which they live.
As a University of Tennessee student and child psychologist, I work with kids on issues ranging from asthma to reading behavior. Many times, I see how compromised our kids’ ability to connect with the natural world is. When they see nature as a problem – or are even told that it is one – they are less likely to feel a connection to it. In turn, less active children tend to grow up to be couch potatoes. On the other hand, children who experience nature through outdoor programs, as well as the art and music programs that I deal with, tend to grow up with stronger connections to their environment and have less stress, anxiety, and aggression.
One reason why this is so important is because growing up is always hard. For our children, being asked to “do something in nature” – or to even realize that they have any activity to do in nature – is another kind of stress. Therefore, the more nature they’re exposed to – and the more activities that they do with nature – the better off they are. Having them engaged in outdoor activities helps develop relationships with nature that may eventually end up allowing them to relate to nature more as adults.
If we’re going to be able to break the cycle of diminishing interest in nature among children, we need to start where we are: in our homes. Even the smallest choices we make regarding the things we give children a chance to do in the outdoors can make a big difference. For example, if you let your children come inside a lot to play – or if you keep them occupied indoors with electronic devices – chances are, you’ll have them too busy with other things to give them a chance to actually experience nature.
The trick is finding your own way in small ways.
Here are five simple strategies you can use to make small steps for bringing nature into your kids’ lives in school:
1. Change the standard school yard. As a parent, it’s common for you to spend time on the school playground while teaching the basics: getting in and out of the car, having snacks, and yelling at kids who don’t get their way. But a healthy dose of nature is needed to allow our kids to develop an appreciation for it. After all, a healthy body is a strong body, right? Instead of allowing your kids to play in a standard field of rows of redwood trees or shrubs, try allowing them to explore your yard or school yard. By varying it up, they may find something unusual.
2. Swap it out with something else. When you take your kids out to a natural setting that you either own or know where to find, do not simply bring them to a lake or a creek. Ask yourself why those particular places are good for your kids.
For example, ask yourself:
Is the water clean enough for them to swim in?
What are its fish feeding opportunities?
If it is cold, is the water temperature warm enough for them to interact with the fish?
What kind of plants and animals can they see and do in the woods?
3. Mix it up. Instead of having kids play at the park in a familiar area, see what opportunities to recreate you can find. Is it an indoor playground, or an outdoor playground for something like soccer?
4. Have them use the word “wild.” When kids approach nature, the way they use the word changes. “Hey! Look! I see a deer!” versus “Wow, there’s an owl!”
5. Get them excited. Every time you are exposed to a new and interesting thing, take it as an opportunity to bring up what they have witnessed. For example, when they say, “Look, there’s an owl,” say to them, “You’re smart. You’re right. That’s right. A real owl lives around here.” Soon, it’s common for them to say, “There’s an owl in my classroom!” When they’re all excited about “wildlife,” they’re always more excited about “wildlife” as a whole.
See the video here: Nature Shaken And Rebuffed
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