EnvironmentalismNature ConnectionRewildingWild Mind

Inspiring Little Wild Ones: 7 ways to encourage kids to connect with nature

By July 31, 2014 6 Comments

Here are some sad facts:

  • 51 % of children in the UK do less than 1 hour of physical activity a day[1] and spend less time outside each day than free-range chickens or prisoners[2].
  • The number of overweight kids in the USA has tripled since the 1980s with 17 % now in the obese category[3], spending just 30 minutes playing outside a day compared to an average of 7 hours in front of a screen a day.

Studies show that:

  • Cases of Rickets, once a problem for poverty stricken Victorians, have sored as children spend less and less time outdoors soaking up precious vitamin D from the sun[4].
  • Research has shown that children with ADHD are much more able to concentrate after contact with nature[5]. All children show signs of reduced stress and an increased sense of calm after just a few minutes in a green space[6].

So everyone knows that kids are spending less time outdoors than ever before.  Sedentary, indoor lifestyles are now the norm as our children’s lives become dominated by technological devices that keep their eyes glued to a virtual world on a screen – blinkered from the natural world around them.

So what can we do to help them gain a sense of curiosity about the world around them? How can we persuade them to put down the ipad or games console and step outside the front door? How can we encourage them to be kind to the environment and feel passionate enough to protect it for generations to come?

I’m no expert, I’m just a concerned and interested mum, but here are 7 things I do with my little wild one in an attempt to drag her away from the screen and (I hope) help her to make a life-long connection with nature:

1. Adopt a special place

Find a natural spot together and visit it often. Notice any small changes each time you are there – the colours of the leaves, new buds and flowers, the feel of the ground under foot after a rainfall… Say ‘hello’ to the trees each time you visit and feel the texture of the bark as they become familiar friends. Protect your special place from harm by collecting litter and treading carefully when you visit.

2. Teach them to nurture nature

Give your child sole responsibility for the care of a plant. It could be a row of carrots in your veg pot, a shrub in the back garden or even a pot-plant on a window ledge if you don’t have much outdoor space. Show them how to water, feed and protect the plant and they will see how it thrives with a little bit of love and attention. Let’s hope that by encouraging them to be gentle and nurturing toward nature at a young age we are ensuring that we have a next generation of little wild ones to protect our beautiful planet.

say hello to the trees

3. Take an explorer’s notebook on outings

Suggest that your child captures a walk in nature by recording the new things they see. Make sketches, jot down ideas for stories, take bark rubbings, keep a tally of the wildlife you see. Add photos when you get home to bring the explorer’s notebook to life.

nature table

4. Create a nature table

Behave like a squirrel and collect little keepsakes from your walks and outings. Gather pine cones, fallen leaves, pebbles and sticks and set up a nature table at home where your kids can display their natural treasures and show them off proudly to friends. Arrange your finds by colour, texture, season or by memories of special places you have been together. Teach them to collect responsibly – only taking things that have fallen to the ground. Leave plenty behind to become important habitats for insects, or food for wildlife or simply to be absorbed back into the earth.

5. Pretend you are a…

Rabbit, a fox, a bird of prey, a tiny mouse or a centipede. Find a natural habitat and decide what you would eat, where you would hide and who your friends/enemies might be. Go wild and pretend to be your chosen creature for a while!

Looking after the veg

6. Play with natural materials

Awaken the senses and make hands-on connections with nature. Get mucky with mud-pies, find buried treasure in a sandpit and drop stones into a bucket of water. Make works of art from piles of leaves, build log towers and wiggle toes in the earth. Worry about the mess later…

7. Fire up little imaginations

I’m not easily defeated by the weather, but some days you just have to give in. However much you love your kids, being trapped in the house all day with a loud and active toddler is enough to make you scream and certainly calls for some emergency indoor-play ideas. Where better to turn to for inspiration than storybooks. Be transported to far away places where wild adventures are waiting to happen. Start off with reading stories together, then have a go at creating your own. Where are going? What animals will you see? What should you wear? Warning: you might end up turning your house upside down as you create a jungle in your dining room or a mountain range on your sofa!

Here are some of our family favourites:

The Snail and the Whale (Julia Donaldson)

Where the Wild Things are (Maurice Sendak)

The Enchanted Wood (Enid Blyton)

Stick Man (Julia Donaldson)

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury)

A First Book of Nature (Nicola Davies)

 

Reference:

[1]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23778945 [2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-klasky/our-children-deserve-as-m_b_4791244.html [3]http://www.cdc.gov/Features/obesityandkids/ [4] http://www.nhs.uk/news/2010/01January/Pages/Rickets-on-the-rise.aspx [5]Taylor et al. 2001 http://naturenurture.org.uk/pdf/greenspace positively impacts on the effects of ADHD.pdf [6] http://www.nwf.org/be-out-there/why-be-out-there/health-benefits.aspx

Author Nicky Temple

Nicky works in the museums sector and is a trained archaeologist and horticulturalist. She lives in the UK with her Swiss husband and 3 year-old daughter. In her spare time she writes a blog about ‘growing a green family’ and inspiring her daughter to become a nature-loving little wild one! www.beeandthebluebells.blogspot.co.uk

More posts by Nicky Temple
  • Heidi B.

    I was just thinking about this when I got up this morning! Thanks for writing about it. So important to encourage children to embrace the natural world, and to explore it.

    • Nicky

      Thanks so much Heidi, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I’m no expert, but I feel so strongly about this subject.

  • GK Okuma

    I love the idea of adopting a place and taking care of a plant – anything to generate interaction with nature in a tangible way. Little gifts of this nature seem to work relatively well – of the things I have offered to children as presents, the one for which I received the most feedback was a monkey whose head was a planter and the seeds grew up in such a way it seemed he had green hair sticking straight up! Thank you also for your book suggestions! Wonderful ideas!

    • Nicky

      Glad you liked my suggestions – i remember having those head-shaped planters when i was young. I think they were cress seeds. Thanks for reminding me! I’m going to see if I can find one for my daughter!

  • diann

    Excellent blog! I often take for granted the nature I grew up with. always exploring, collecting, experimenting… I’m the crazy aunt that does nature walks with the kids! Will share!

    • Nicky

      Thanks Diann, I’m sure your nieces/nephews love your nature walks! Keep taking them!