As a nature-based early childhood educator, I hear all the time from parents who want their kiddos to be spending more time outdoors, but aren’t quite sure where to begin. And I get it! Unplugging and heading outdoors can feel intimidating. But it doesn’t have to. Here are my top 4 tips for helping your child connect with nature — even if you’re not a “nature person.”
1. Make Time & Space
Research shows that frequent, unstructured experiences in nature are the most common influence on the development of life-long conservation values. If you want your child to love and care for the earth, all you have to do is make time for them to go outdoors and play!
Too often, though, we overlook close-to-home natural spaces. We think of nature as being synonymous with wilderness, and forget that even city parks and suburban backyards offer fertile ground for fostering a nature connection.
Don’t feel like you have to set aside an entire day or more for a big outdoor adventure. Instead, challenge yourself to go outdoors with your child for just 30 minutes a day for a week. Start getting to know the little patch of nature outside your front door. What changes depending on the weather or the time of day? Don’t worry about having anything planned – just make time and space and let your child lead the way.
2. Learn Together
Can’t tell a maple from an oak tree or an insect from an arachnid? That’s just fine! Let your little one see that you don’t always know everything! Instead, embrace the learning process together. Modeling curiosity – and good research skills – is more valuable than pretending to have all the answers!
Find children’s books on natural themes at the library, invest in a couple of simple field guides specific to your region, and keep a list of your child’s questions and photos of interesting things you find to research together when you’re back inside.
The more time you spend outdoors, the better you’ll get to know your own local ecosystem, and the more plants and animals you’ll find yourself naturally starting to recognize.
3. Model a Positive Attitude
When it comes to spending time outdoors, attitude is everything! Disliking the rain or fearing insects isn’t instinctive – kids learn these attitudes from watching adults. It’s alright if you don’t want to touch every creepy-crawly your child discovers under a log, but try to react with enthusiasm and interest rather than “eews” and “eeks!”
Similarly, work on being enthusiastic about heading outdoors, no matter how hot, cold, or wet the weather may be. Building a deep connection with the natural world requires spending time in nature in all conditions. I think Nicolette Sowder of Wilder Child sums up the benefits of this practice best: “Encouraging a child to go outside in all weather builds resilience, but more importantly it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the “bad” days in favor of a handful of “good” ones – a life of endless expectations and conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine.”
This may seem easier said then done, but there’s a lot of truth to the Scandinavian saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” More often than not, if we’re uncomfortable outdoors it’s our gear (or lack thereof), not the conditions, that are to blame. Sturdy boots, and quality rain gear can make a huge difference in how you and your child experience time out in the elements, and are well worth the investment!
4. Don’t Go It Alone!
Building a habit of getting outdoors regularly with your child is easier if you have support!
That’s why I recently launched Wonderkin, a monthly subscription box that provides parents with everything they need to jumpstart engaging outdoor play and learning, no matter where they live or how crazy their schedule is.
Each box is curated around a different natural theme, like hibernation and pollination, and includes a high-quality children’s book, materials and guidelines for 3-5 hands-on learning and outdoor exploration activities, and a parent “cheat sheet” to help you answer all your little explorer’s questions. Subscribers also receive exclusive discounts on premium children’s gear from our favorite brands, and access to our Insiders Facebook group, where they can connect with a community of like-minded parents. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can get $5 off your first box with promo code “NATURENAT.”
Want additional support? Find another parent to go on regular outdoor playdates with, or check out Free Forest School, an organization that provides free opportunities for young children and their parents and caregivers to explore, play, and connect in public parks across the U.S.
Emma Huvos is an early-childhood educator and nature play advocate. She runs Riverside Nature School, a nature-based early childhood program located in Charles Town, West Virginia and is the founder of Wonderkin, a monthly subscription box designed to support early childhood development by getting kids outdoors and connected to nature.