Connect your kids with nature

Apr 24, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

Collecting seashells, playing in the mud or reading Ranger Rick — sound like memories from your childhood? If you're like me, then yes, they do. But here's a thought: Do they sound like a part of your kids' lives today?

It's an interesting question we, as parents, should all ask ourselves this Earth month. Why? Because if our kids don't feel a connection to nature early on, what will motivate them to protect it as they grow older?

According to Richard Louv, author of the best-selling books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, every child needs nature. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation — but certainly one that poses challenges when we look at our weekly calendar (where'd the white space go?).

Making an effort to connect your kids to nature can sound like a vague notion at best, and a daunting task at worst. But the truth is, it's something simple we can do every day. Here's how.

Nature is everywhere

First of all, let's be clear: You don't have to own a pair of hiking boots or even be the slightest bit outdoorsy to get kids curious about the wild. As wonderful as it is, it also doesn't require a family trip to Yellowstone.

Rather, all it takes is a cool picture book about animals or an "adventure" in the backyard to get your kids curious about animals, wildlife and the outdoors.

Hikes, museums, books and videos can all help spark that fascination and awaken your kids to the world beyond their house or classroom: What do baby turtles eat? Why do leaves change colors? How do fish breathe underwater?

To come up with simple ideas for your own family, try getting nostalgic. Take a moment to talk to a grandparent — or even a peer — about his or her favorite nature memories from childhood. Was it skipping stones? Drawing horses? Climbing trees? These memories might be enough to remind you just how easy it can be to make nature part of your own parenting style.


However you decide to weave nature into your kids' lives, know there are significant benefits.

For one, it's a sensory explosion for young minds. Discovering how birds build nests, watching a baby elephant play, touching a sheep's coat or digging a carrot out of the soil all stimulate curiosity in young minds in a way other activities may not be able to.

But more importantly, sparking a curiosity about the wild is really a way to groom the next generation to become custodians of our planet's future.

And what greater motivation is there than that?

More on the outdoors

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Mom health: Enjoying the outdoors
Outdoor safety tips for summer

Image credit: Disney