Keep Your Little Ones Loving Nature
It's no secret that we absolutely love to be outdoors in our family. Maybe it's because both my husband and I grew up in a tiny Texas town (did you know we're high school sweethearts?!), each out in the country in a house with numerous brothers and sisters, and without cell phones or computers to keep us glued indoors. Our time growing up was always spent outside.
Perhaps we passed down our innate love for the outdoors to our children. Maybe as we aim to give them a home free of technology as much as possible these days, we've instilled in them a wonder for the rolling fields behind our home, the joy of feeling the warm Spring sunshine on their face, and the beauty and fun that a big pile of dirt can hold. However our two boys have come to love being outdoors, it's something that we are thankful for and are always quick to encourage. Even if it means constantly reapplying the sunscreen in our often hot, hot, hot Texas heat, we love to see their laughing faces outdoors and enjoying this beautiful earth God created for us.
As we head into a new year with a new baby on the way, spending time together outside as a family is something we want to continue to encourage and prioritize throughout the year.
"Each of us is born innately connected to, and in-tune with, nature – but as we get older, that relationship fades if we don’t nurture it. So as our schedules become increasingly crowded and technology fills the gaps in between, how do we prioritize an earth-centered lifestyle in an accessible way? Below, read seven tips for creating a family life that fosters a love for the world around us.
Appreciation of the natural world is the best gift we can give to our little ones; a connection that doesn’t need to be invented in them, only kindled. As reveling in peaceful moments on a mountaintop, at the water’s edge or deep in the forest are a beautiful part of the human experience, I hope these simple suggestions inspire you to help continue them in the next generation.
Live Al Fresco
Italian for “in the open air,” the term al fresco brings to mind an easy, carefree style – and you can apply it to more than just mealtimes. Think of the things you already do each day and see if you can make swaps that favor the outdoors. Can you park a few blocks away from your destination and wander a neighborhood you may otherwise not discover? Pause the TV and make it a family ritual to watch the sun go down together? Line dry your laundry and fall asleep to the smell of sunshine? By consciously weaving outside elements into your daily schedule, you’re bound to feel more connected.
Invest in Less
Despite the parental guilt we’ve been programmed to feel if we’re not providing our children with constant entertainment or new things to play with, less truly is more. Why? Highly stimulating TV shows, games and flashy toys can dull a child’s attention to details that might otherwise catch their eye, like a maple seed “helicopter” fluttering down to the ground.
Besides, you’ve probably noticed that your kids aren’t that interested in all their stuff anyway – so instead of adding to the pile, rotate just a few key items that they show consistent interest in and focus on getting them outside, strengthening their ability to imagine and create.
Let Them Be Wild
Although there are enough classes to keep kids scheduled for every waking moment, there is no substitute for the essential lessons learned from time simply spent outside. Keep clothes you aren’t afraid to get dirty and aim for at least one hour of unstructured, independent play outdoors each day. Give them space and let them splash, climb, jump, run and be loud; scraped knees, grass stains and muddy skin are all signs of time well spent!
Not only will the negative ions absorbed during these adventures do more for your child’s well-being than any formal enrichment class, but their self-guided experiences will help to root a unique and personal relationship with nature.
Plan Trips Where Nature is the Highlight
When planning a holiday or weekend adventure, pick a place where an element of nature is the main event. Build up excitement for looking deep into the Grand Canyon, whale watching, witnessing the northern lights or a geyser eruption. What is on your natural bucket bucket list?
Keep in mind that experiences don’t have to happen far from home; camping in the yard, celebrating lunar cycles or appreciating a big storm together are all great opportunities to find wonder in nature’s fantastical design.
Offer Jobs with Purpose
Kids love to help. Volunteering with rescue animals? Planting flowers in the backyard? Participating in coastal clean-up events? Even the littlest of toddlers love having a job to do. Tune in to their interests and present age-appropriate opportunities that are both fun and serve a larger purpose. Teach them why and how their role fits into the bigger scheme – it’s never too early to instill a sense of value to their work.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Curiosity is a muscle that needs flexing, and one of the easiest ways to foster an interest in nature is simply to talk about it. Walks and mealtimes, in particular, are great for conversation, and questions can be as simple as, “What does this taste like?” “What did you discover?” “What was that experience like for you?” “Where do you think that came from?” “What do you think that’s used for?” Not only will asking questions promote an open dialogue with you, but you’ll encourage their creativity, problem-solving skills and a deeper level of meaning in nature.
Teach them why and how their role fits into the bigger scheme – it’s never too early to instill a sense of value to their work.
Lead by Example
Children look to us to learn what to prioritize in their own lives – so even more meaningful than talking about nature is showing how much you care. Recycling, picking up litter or treating plants and animals with respect are small moments that don’t go unnoticed by a child. How often do your kids see you on your phone or computer as opposed to swimming in the ocean, gazing up at the stars or admiring the plant life around you?"