When our first child came home, I reveled in the idea of being an earth-mama. Cloth diapering, eco-friendly, organic food…the works. I let my son explore our backyard without restraint. He was destined to be brilliant, and all the books declared “child + time in nature = Einstein.” So chew on a stick and get muddy, son! It’ll make you more like Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Jack Kerouac!
But somewhere between child one and child three, my love of letting my kids “free range” out of doors waned. It became a chore worthy of its own freakish reality TV show, especially considering I’m not naturally an outdoorsy girl. I’m a “read a book indoors with a cup of coffee, please” kind of person.
But I’ve discovered some “hacks” for how to rediscover joy in nature study with my children. Here are a few tips to help you find your “nature eyes” (as my kids call them.)
- Food. Ask your kids what foods they think are in season. Try to identify with them how or where your food was grown. Show them seeds from your produce. Try to grow a plant (or a garden, if you’re ambitious.) Chat up farmers at the farmers’ market.
- Nature study guides. You can find some at the library, but it’s sometimes nice to have your own. We like Peterson First Study Guides series and Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman, among others. Even just reading about nature will spark your child’s creativity and curiosity.
- Local nature centers like Oxbow Park or Quarry Hill Nature Center. Quarry Hill has a lending library and recently added some nature activity kits available for checkout.
- Mason jar studies. If you’re brave, buy an insect identification book, and allow your kids or spouse to play catch and release with insects in a mason jar (with breathable lid). I’ve learned the art of firefly gender identification this way. (Something to make my resumé stand out, right?) Coloring pages can easily be found for free online, to reinforce what you’ve learned. YouTube videos are also quite fascinating, but may need to be previewed. (Unless you’re cool with your kids watching mating craneflies or spiders eating other spiders.)
- Change your attitude from “I should” to “I want.” In his book Last Child In the Woods, Richard Louv writes “If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or just one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.” When I changed my attitude and genuinely wanted to learn instead of feeling guilty over not going outside enough, our nature walks became more joy-filled experiences, regardless of whether or not my children were becoming brilliant in the process.
What are some ways you like to learn about nature, whether it be outdoors or from the comfort of your couch?