Kids are natural born scientists, they are curious by nature and will enjoy just a simple walk into your back yard or the local park. Getting outside will lead to an abundance of learning opportunities for a parent and a child. Step outdoors in any season to expose your child to the sights, smells, sounds, textures, and even tastes of the wonderful world all around them
where can you find nature?
If your children are young just taking a stroll into your own back yard will help your child learn to see the world around him, and ask questions about what he sees. A curious mind is one that is engaged in observation, your child will learn a lot just by noticing plants and animals and watching as they go through seasonal changes. Dig in your flower bed and look for worms, talk about how they enrich the soil. Look for caterpillars, watch your child’s amazement as you explain that someday it will be a beautiful butterfly. While you are out with your young naturalists you may want to ask them questions to get their minds working. Some suggestions of questions are, Can you hear the leaf crunching under your feet? why are the leaves falling off the trees? What does the bark on each different tree feel like? Is it smooth or rough? Roll over logs and ask why there are bugs hiding under there and what are they doing to the log?
children are natural born environmentalists
Older children especially are able to comprehend the importance of finding ways to save our environment and protecting endangered animals. Visit your local Audubon society and ask how you can volunteer. Your older child may want to form or join an environmental club, inquire at the local nature preserve to find out if there is one already formed. If not they may be open to starting one with your child. Your local nature preserve is also a great place to take hikes, remind your child to keep their eyes open for signs of animals, foot prints, fur, and scat. Have them look for spider webs and bird’s nests. Look underneath trees for signs that owls have been roosting. If you’re lucky you may find owl pellets, the tiny balls that owls regurgitate full of bones and fur. The pellets consist of the inedible parts of animals that the owls have caught and eaten. You can pick up these pellets and take them apart to find (or guess) what the owl has been catching, kids love it.
Keeping a journal
Keeping a journal not only encourages writing and reading, but is also a wonderful way for your child to share his or her love of nature. Your child will enjoy keeping track of all the changes he has witnessed in the world around him and sharing it with friends, classmates, and teachers. Bring a notebook along with you on your walks so that your child can record his or her observations and draw pictures of what they see. A camera is also fun if you would like to include photos. Another great resource for journal writing and keeping track of wildlife in your area is the National Wildlife Federation. The federation has a link entitled Wild Life Watch. On this site you can log on and report data and observations that you have discovered using a drop down menu that lists you state. It is a lot of fun and you children will get a kick out of seeing their observations appear on the website.
Help your child Learn the proper names of the things you see.
Being able to properly identify the animals, birds, and trees that you find is a valuable skill that they will use their whole life. Purchase a set of good field guides and keep them where your children can get to them when ever they like. Encourage your child to bring home leaves or feathers or even pictures of the animal tracks they see. All of these things are clues to identification that your child can use for research in his or her guides to identification. It will be exciting for them when they finally learn to use the books on their own. Begin a life list of birds for your child and try to add to it regularly. Eventually it will be thrilling for your child to spot a bird that is not yet on their list.
Surround your children with the natural world.
Kids today are disconnected from the natural world around them. Our modern lifestyles have fostered a culture of structured only and indoor play. Instead let your children explore their backyards and parks. Teach them that there is nothing “icky” about the beautiful spider that inhabits the garden. Encourage them to explore their natural world. Raise a tadpole and watch it become a frog, find a cocoon and let them see it become a butterfly. Take them on an owl prowl during a chilly winter evening. Help them to explore with all their senses the world around them. We owe it to our children to help them reconnect with nature. Children who have experienced nature intimately are confident, happy, curious and engaged with their world