It has become very difficult to get children to appreciate the wonders of the natural world that surrounds them. Why? Because they’re glued to their TVs, laptops, iPads, and mobile phones almost all the time, they don’t like playing outdoors anymore.
Technology has definitely come a long way in making things more convenient for us, but it has also had a lot of undesired effects. It’s almost-hypnotic hold on our children is one of them. Unlike the generations before, children today just don’t play outside that much anymore. They don’t run on the grass, hide in the trees, collect rocks, chase little critters, or climb up trees like we used to. Outdoor play has ceased from being something kids had to beg their mothers for permission, to becoming something that has to be enforced by the parents. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Parents can and should take a more active role in reconnecting their children with nature. It can be difficult especially if you live in a very urban environment, but it’s something to consider.
Children need to have a much better appreciation of their environment in order to develop better attitude towards natural life and the earth as they grow up. Children are naturally inquisitive so it shouldn’t be too difficult to entice them, but it’s the parents’ job to awaken that natural curiosity in them
One of the best ways to do this is through nature play and art. Children also like art because its colorful and it’s messy. There are no rules and they’re free to be as expressive and as playful as they want. In the battle against digital distractions for our children's attention, art can become a major tool in bringing them back to the natural world.
Here are five fun things you can do to improve your child’s appreciation of nature.
Take Them On Nature Trips
Photo courtesy of WoodlyWonderWorks via Flickr
For most urban parents, a day out with their kids involves going to the mall, watching a movie, or eating out. Those are all good as any time you spend with your children is well spent. But for our ends, maybe you might want to consider bringing them on nature trips instead.
Guide them through the park, public garden, a botanical, or a nearby nature trail. Have a picnic there afterwards or bring the dog and a frisbee. Let them run around in a field or play hide and seek in the trees. Basically just bring your children outdoors.
You need to expose your children to the beauty of the natural world so that their knowledge and appreciation of it isn’t limited to what they see in pictures and movies.
Play educational games with them as well while you’re on these trips. Like spot and name a critter, tree, or flower for example. This will encourage your children to actually look at the things around them.
There are a lot of interesting things in nature so take the time to explain some of them when you’re out walking. Example of things you can talk about:
Exposing your kids to nature is the first step in building their interest in it. If you can make it a regular family thing, even better.
Teach Them How To Make Natural Paint
Photo courtesy of Alison via Flickr, Creative Commons
Another great way to get your children to interact with nature is by teaching them how to make paint with flowers. It’s actually not that hard to do and involves the simplest and safest of materials. Here’s a link to a post about how to make them: Natural Water Color Paint From Flowers.
All you’ll really need for this are flowers, warm water, and containers. The paint that’ll come out is very light but it’ll still be really fun for your children to make these. And because they’re water-based, they’ll be easy to washout so you can let your kids be as messy as they want.
Another idea is to make edible fruit paint. They’re basically just pureed fruit with a dash of coloring to enhance their inherent color. Read more about it here: Edible Paint For Babies.
Go On Nature Inspired Painting Sessions
Photo courtesy of Jessica Lucia via Flickr, Creative Commons
Now that you’ve got natural paint (you can use store bought paint as well, of course) you can take your children outdoors to paint things they can find in nature. Bring them to a place with a beautiful view of the the forest, the sea, or the mountains. If you can’t do that or don’t have the time to go too far outside of the city, even just the park or the backyard is fine. Just getting them to do something outside of the house is a win already.
Ask them to paint whatever interests them. Let them have the final say on the subject. You want the experience to be fun for them so don’t give them too much rules or instructions. Let them be as creative as they want. You can paint with them so that you’ll be there if they need help with anything. Keep encouraging and complementing them as they paint. Try to create a playful atmosphere.
This is a great exercise for getting your children to focus on and appreciate the natural world. Once they’re done painting, you can reinforce their experience by asking them questions about the subject. Like why they picked it, what do they find attractive or pretty about it, or how much they know about the subject.
Teach Them Photography
Photo courtesy of Muha via Flickr
Maybe this isn’t the best idea for toddlers, but for the slightly older children, this’ll be a blast. They’ll be able to combine their newage love for gadgets with their developing (hopefully) appreciation for nature. Give them your old digital camera and tell them to snap away at anything they find pretty. You’ll be amazed at what they’ll take pictures off and how well-framed some of them will be.
Afterwards you can review the pictures on a bigger screen like your ipad or laptop and talk to your kids about them. Again, ask them basic questions like why they chose the subject, what’s pretty about it, talk about colors, and pretty much anything interesting.
Getting them to verbalize their sentiments about the subjects of their photos will help them to commit their likes and dislikes about it to memory.
Grow A Garden Playground
Photo courtesy of Maciej Lewandowski via Flickr, Creative Commons
The best way to make sure that your child appreciates nature is to surround them with it. The problem, however, is that for a lot of us, this isn’t always possible. The next best thing is growing a garden playground. Create an outdoor playspace for your child that’s surrounded by nature. So a background playground with trees and flower plants would be great. If there’s not much space for a tree then maybe just flowers and grass will be enough. You can even grow herbs and vegetables if you want.
Be sure to get your kids to help out when you’re planting and harvesting. That can be another activity you can do with them. The important thing is that you create an environment where your children can play and appreciate nature at the same time. It doesn’t have to be expensive or large, but it has to be interesting. So create your own nature-themed playground with whatever's available or convenient.
These five activities should help encourage your children to appreciate nature and they can all be done in one day. They’re perfect as a weekend or holiday activity for the family.
There are a ton of other things that you can do to teach your kids about nature, these are only some of them. What’s important is that you make the activities fun for the children.
Remember that you're up against PC, tablet, and console games for your child’s attention. So make sure whatever activity you decide to do, you make it interesting for the children.