Love nature?

Here's how you can pass it on to your kids

|  STORY BY MEGHAN MCMAHON |

3/8/2022

Parents hope to pass on a lot to their kids, serious things like strong morals and a good work ethic and maybe even some more playful qualities, like a good sense of humor and an adventurous spirit.

If you're a parent or guardian who loves spending time in nature, it's only natural that you would want to pass that on to the kids in your family as well. Sometimes the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and kids take to nature easily, but not all kids are born loving the great outdoors. 

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Whether your kid is a natural or reluctant adventurer, there are some things we can do as parents and guardians to foster a love of nature and the outdoors with the next generation.

Go slow

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Kids are sometimes whirling balls of endless motion, but don't let all that energy fool you. They are still much smaller than adults, so what might be a leisurely stroll or hike for you can require quite a bit of stamina for kids to keep up, which makes it hard for them to take in their surroundings.

When you're enjoying the outdoors, go at their pace. This gives them a chance to take notice of everything around them. Point out things you see or notice — the sound of a bird calling on a hike through the forest, the clouds racing through the sky on a windy day, the smell of freshly cut grass on a trip to the park. Ask questions and let them ask questions too.

Make it a teachable moment

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Kids are always watching and listening, so our attitude toward certain things can easily become their attitude. If you hate snakes, your kids may pick up on that based on your language and reaction to them. The same goes for bugs and spiders and other animals many people consider undesirable. It's as easy to pass along fear and hatred as love and adoration, and parents need to be mindful of that when it comes to nature.

Children should be taught about the importance of biodiversity and that all plants and animals have a specific role to play in their habitat, National Geographic advises. There are no bad plants or animals; we need them all to make the world go round, so to speak. It's OK to acknowledge your fear or dislike or certain animals, but make it a point to point out why we need them too. Maybe you're afraid of bees. That's OK, but let you kids know how important they and other pollinators are to the ecosystem.

Embrace their curiosity

(Photo by Anthony Schalk)

Young kids famously ask a lot of questions, and as a parent it can be hard to be enthusiastic about answering their queries by the 167th question of the day. Not to mention they sometimes ask questions that we just don't have the answers for. But that curiosity is a good thing, and playing along can help engage them and encourage them to continue seeking knowledge.

And it's OK if parents don't have all the answers. No one does. When kids ask questions you don't know the answer to, consider it an opportunity. Take a second to look up the answer online or plan a trip to the library to find books on the topic so you can both become more knowledgeable. 

Snap photos

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Whether it's colorful rocks at the beach, bird feathers in a forest or a summer wildflower from the prairie, nature belongs in nature. It can be tempting for kids — and adults — to collect the treasures they find on their adventures, but it's best to let it be. (And in some cases, including in Will County forest preserves, it's illegal to remove or relocate natural resources from the preserves.)

Instead of gathering objects from nature, consider snapping photos instead. You can create a scrapbook, either real or digital, that you can use to remember your adventures and share with friends. Taking photos in nature can also help kids see their discoveries in a new way, according to National Geographic. Maybe they'll notice details they didn't see in the moment or find something new and exciting in the background that hadn't noticed before.

Celebrate the season

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Every season is special in its own way, but not everyone loves all seasons. To help your kids embrace the great outdoors, make sure they get to experience it at all times of the year. Jump in puddles in the spring, soak up the sun in the summer, collect leaves in the fall and make snow angels in the winter. Remember, your favorite time of year may not be theirs, and that's OK. 

Similarly, let your kids enjoy the outdoors at all times of day. Watch the sunrise or sunset together, and let them stay up past their bedtime to look at the starts and catch lightning bugs. You never know what kids will respond to, so the more opportunities you give them, the more likely they will find a connection with nature.

Be responsible

(Photo by Anthony Schalk)

When teaching kids about nature, it's important to teach them how to respect it. Set a good example by following the rules of the place you are in. Stay on the trail if it's required, don't feed the animals, don't litter and leave nature in its place. 

Teach them the why too. Don't stop at telling them feeding wildlife isn't allowed. Tell them why. We shouldn't feed wildlife because the foods we feed them aren't part of their normal diet, which can make them sick. Plus close contact with animals makes them more comfortable around humans, which affects their behavior. We leave nature in its place because all things have a role to play in the ecosystem, plus it should be left in place for everyone to experience and enjoy.

 

 

(Lead image via Shutterstock)

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