I’ve been getting visitors searching for articles on ways to raise nature-loving kids. I skimmed over this topic in a previous article called 10 Ways to Nurture Simple and Nature-loving Kids. So, I decided to write an article on this specific topic.
What I have written below are, of course, only ideas. And they can be tweaked in a million different ways to fit you, your budget, and your children’s needs. Please remember every family is different and every child is unique. A 16 year old may not be as interested in playing in mud like a 4 year old. And a 4 year old will not be able to write an essay like a 16 year old. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you a ton of smiles and laughter with your children.
1. Be an example.
First and most important, be an example for your kids. It will be hard to raise nature-loving kids if you dislike nature and natural living. So, make an effort and walk the talk — garden, cook with fresh food, take long walks, go on scenic drives, play sounds of nature music, open your doors and windows on a cool breezy day, have nature books laying around, join nature related groups, drive with your windows down, swim at the beach, throw picnic and BBQ parties for your family and friends, shop at farmer’s markets, decorate your home with live plants, use natural products, enjoy animals, or subscribe to green, natural, and wildlife magazines. There are many ways to show you like nature and natural living. Find something that fits you and do it.
2. Go WWOOFing with your teenagers.
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF is a world-wide network of organizations that link volunteers with organic farmers and help people share more sustainable ways of living. In return for help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.
You can WWOOF in your own country. If you live in the US, you can volunteer in another state like Hawaii or even in another country like Canada. Travel and study at the same time, you can’t beat that.
3. Visit local gardens.
It can be a botanical garden or a garden on a public estate grounds like Vizcaya Gardens in Florida. Some are public garden-parks free to all and some are private gardens and charge a fee. If there isn’t one in your city, look for one nearby. Check out GardenVisit.com for a list of gardens around the US.
For older children, make this visit interesting by adding a project. For example, you can have your teenager take a photo of the most beautiful piece of nature she saw (a flower, plant, leaf, bird, butterfly) and then do something creative based on it like write a poem, create a song, paint an abstract, or design a dress based on the shapes and colors in the photos.
4. Read stories based on nature.
This is a great way to mix entertainment and nature. Check out this pinterest page: Nature-based Children’s Books, for some titles. The Native American culture also has a lot of inspiring and beautiful earth stories. Writers have taken the time to hear these stories and write them down for us all to enjoy and explore. Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac are two such writers. Some books they have published are: “Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children”, “Native plant stories”, “Earth Tales from around the World”, “Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children”, “Native American animal stories”, and “Native American gardening: stories, projects, and recipes for families”. This can be a nature and a cultural diversity lesson in one.
5. Grow a vegetable and/or fruit garden.
This can be a lot of fun and educational if you allow your kids to help in every aspect of the gardening process — designing the garden, choosing what to plant, buying the plants or seeds, planting, pruning, watering, and picking. As an added benefit, you can allow your older children to help you cook your produce. During summer, try designating at least two days a month for just you, your family, and your garden. If you have a varying choice of ripe herbs, fruits and vegetables in your garden, make an entire meal using only what you pick. Remember to get your children involved. Otherwise, you will find them playing video games while you do all the planting, picking and cooking.
If you do not have the land or are unable to commit to growing a garden, another option is to buy shares in a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. A CSA is an organization where individuals pledge to support one or more local farms by buying shares in a CSA farm(s) or paying fees. In return, shareholders or subscribers receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit once harvesting begins. Some CSAs also offer discounts in exchange for labor.
6. Rent a home in the country for vacation.
“The hills are alive, with sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years.” ~The Sound of Music
If you already live in the country, there’s no reason to do this, unless you want to rent a home on the beach. That can be another fun nature submersion experience. But if you live in the city, surrounded by concrete, it will be a nice change to rent a home for a few days that’s surrounded by trees and grass… where the air is cleaner and the scent of nature is stronger… where you can see squirrels running and deer grazing… where your children can run free, act crazy and scream like banshees without upsetting your neighbors. While in the country, don’t forget to gaze at the stars at night and sign-up for horseback riding and fishing lessons. You may also be able to find nature trails, hiking tours, hay rides, and guided birdwatching tours. Local festivals are also fun outings for kids.
7. Adopt a pet.
There’s nothing like a pet to teach your children how to love all living beings. So, if you go this route, make sure to get your children involved. Make them responsible for pet-related chores. Have discussions on what it means to be good parents to pets, what is humane treatment and inhumane, what can be done to make a pet’s life better. Force your child to think beyond the “I want a puppy” level.
There’s nothing like a beautiful landscape to inspire and leave a lasting memory. You don’t have to travel outside the country or even outside your state. It can be as simple as taking a day trip to somewhere beautiful that your children have never been before. Maybe you know of a waterfall, a beach with clear blue water and sparkling white sand, a lake that’s also a beach, an island in the middle of a neighboring town, or a mountain covered in bright white snow.
9. Celebrate the change of seasons or solstices and equinoxes
In the past, people were very aware of the change in seasons because it meant a change in food supply and animal migration. Now that we have subdivisions, planned cities, grocery stores and shopping malls, there’s no need to pay close attention to the change in seasons. So, this is one aspect of nature with which many of us have lost touch. If you want to teach your children to appreciate the change of season, celebrate it by attending festivals, throwing feasts, walking through gardens, sending out prayers, reading seasonal stories, or singing related songs. You can also buy in-season produce. Don’t forget to explain the significance of a season change to your children.
10. Play in the rain.
When was the last time you played in the rain? Next time it rains on a hot day, take your kids outside and play, dance, and scream. Be a kid with your kids.
11. Go to local parks.
Take your children to parks regularly. Play toss and catch, kick a ball around, arrange a picnic, fly a kite, throw frisbees, hoola-hoop, jump rope, row a canoe, roll down a hill… Teach your children how to have fun outdoors.
This is also the perfect time to have discussions. Ask them questions and listen to their answers and musings. Away from your job and phone calls from family and friends, you’ll be able to focus your attention on them. This will help form positive associations in your children’s minds — nature means family time, nature means fun, nature means games, nature means delicious food…
You can also take your children bike-riding, jogging, or walking through a local park. If you have a healthy dog, you can also take your dog out for a walk. This outing can be like hitting 2 birds with one stone (not literally of course).
12. Flip through landscape books.
One day, when it’s quiet and your children want to cuddle up next to you, flip through a book of gorgeous landscape pictures. If you want an activity to go with this, have them study the book for photography ideas. Then, take them to different areas around your city, and various parks, gardens, and open land with cameras. Have them take landscape photos. Find a way to get them serious about this project so that they can learn to really see nature, to pay attention to the finer details, and look for a beautiful shot. When they have completed the project you can have it printed and wired into book format or you can make a pdf e-book and download it onto an e-reader. If your kids are older, have them add words (a poem, essay, short tale, song, quote, or description) to the bottom of each photo. You can also make them responsible for creating a landscape e-book for your pleasure.
13. Have them write a story, play, poem, and/or philosophy based on nature, Mother Earth, or a green-related movement.
Loving nature shouldn’t just be about entertainment. It should also be about mentally understanding it and becoming emotionally connected to it. Writing your and other people’s thoughts down on paper is a great way to dig deep into a subject and your soul and come up with your own understanding.
14. Watch movies with beautiful landscape scenes.
When I was a teenager, I loved movies that took me around the world. I grew up with a strong desire to travel and explore the planet’s varying landscapes and cultures. Without these movies, I don’t know if I my desire to explore and have one adventure after another would be the same.
15. Create a fake treasure hunt.
A friend of mind came up with this one. And the minute I heard it, I loved it. Buy some shovels, an old box and a bunch of old-looking items that will fit in the box. When choosing the treasure, try finding rare items that do not have the words Made in China (and the like) written on the back. Bury the box somewhere legal. Remember where you buried it. You may want to create a marker of some kind, something only you will see. The next day, propose a treasure hunt to your children. After a couple misses, lead them to the spot where you buried your treasure the day before. Have them dig away until they find your box. Don’t forget to act surprised!
16. Install a bird feeder.
This is a simple way to have a fun nature lesson right in your backyard. You and your children can spend days looking at the various birds coming to feast at your feeder. Buy a bird book to go along with it. Play a “name that bird” game. You can also have them take a picture and then paint it. Birds, with all their colors, are always fun to paint
17. Play “Name that bug”.
I admit I’m not much of a bug person. But maybe you are and will have fun traipsing through your backyard on the search for the most colorful or craziest-looking bugs.
18. Play sounds of nature music.
If you’re raising babies, try putting them to sleep with nature-sounds music. Nature-sounds can be very relaxing and soothing. It’s also a great way to bring the outside in and remind you of life outside four walls. If you have toddlers and pre-teens, play this type of music around the house. You can buy it at your local store or online. And if you have good internet access, you can listen to it free on last.fm radio. You can also find nature-sounds playlists on YouTube.com.
19. Make a video on nature.
To make this video, you will need a video-making software. You don’t have to buy one. If you have a newer computer, you probably already have one. My Acer laptop came with Windows Live Movie Maker. You can also make a video online free with websites like: Masher.com. If you want to add professional video clips to you movie making project, you can either buy or download free clips online. Neo’s Clip Archive offers free video clips. You will also need some music and your own pictures and/or video clips of anything that deals with nature. Take a scenic drive, go to the aquarium, visit a garden, have a beach day. Even if it is as far as your backyard, go spend time in nature. Allow your children to click away. This project is about them: what story they want to tell, which beauty calls to them, and what their eyes see. You may be surprised at the details they catch. Here are examples of what you can do with landscape shots…
This is a great project for older kids — a nature, art, and film-making class in one. And for younger kids, you can help them — let them take the images and choose the music while you work the computer.
- If you are homeschooling your children, having your children paint, draw, or take photographs of what they see can turn 2 classes, science and art, into one.
- If you forget your camera at home, don’t forget you can quickly buy a disposable camera at a CVS or Walgreen. You can also use your cellphone. Most cellphones today take adequate, if not great pictures.
- You can create e-books by saving your document under PDF instead of Word Document using Microsoft Word. You can also create and edit PDF documents using Adobe Acrobat. You can buy Adobe Acrobat on Adobe.com.
- If you are on a budget, don’t forget to check your local library for books, dvds and cds. Many libraries offer an inter-library loan program where you can choose books over a year old from any library in US and have it sent to your library.
- If you are on a budget, but want to rent a vacation home in the country, look through sites like Craigslist.org that offer sublets and temporary housing. Sometimes, you’ll find a home owner subletting their guest home or cabins on their property at an affordable price.