Kids and Nature

Hiking near our home.

Particularly if you live in an urban setting, keeping kids (and yourself) connected to nature can be a real challenge.  I recently read an article about how this generation of children is the first ever that will spend more time playing inside than outside.  Although I didn't spend my childhood wandering through forests or wild meadows, I did spend a whole lot of time outside playing tag, climbing trees, wandering through empty lots, and looking under rocks for bugs.

The benefits of children (and adults) spending time in the natural world is well documented, but I want my children to have this experience simply because I think of a connection with nature as an essential part of being human.  Yet even though I have a backyard and live near several city and county parks, I struggle with getting my kids out into nature.  Part of the challenge for me is the planning and preparation often required (putting on hats and shoes, packing up food and water, mapping out the route), and part is just letting go a little bit, being willing to embrace the mess and chaos.

Exploring in the backyard.

Here are a few things I am doing to get my kids connected to nature:
  • Talk about the natural world while out walking.  When my first was a toddler, we went for long walks (to wear him out so he would take a nap) at his pace.  We stopped to watch the bees, listen to bird song and dogs barking, throw rocks in water, and walked on crunchy leaves.  I struggle with how to do this now with a preschool and toddler who do not walk at the same pace.
  • Send my kids out into the backyard.  As they spend more time out there, I know they'll get better at entertaining themselves.  We have some large patches of dirt where both like to play.  We are thinking of getting a dog (if our landlords will go for it), which I know would make being outside more appealing for my kids.
  • I try to give my kids some time playing in the creek near our neighborhood park, even though it is a situation that is more difficult to control and makes me a little nervous.
  • Read books that encourage wonder about the outdoors, such as nonfiction about animals or plants, or picture books about children's experiences in nature, such as Owl Moon.
  • I try to participate weekly in some of the more adventurous activities to farms and county parks planned by my moms' group.  It takes some motivation for me to do these.
  • We try to go to wild areas (city, county and state parks; beaches) as a family to hike and explore on the weekends.  

Visiting our CSA farm last summer.

And here are a few things I'd like to try:
  • Plant and tend a garden with lots of involvement from my kids.  If not a garden, then a potted tomato plant or herbs.
  • Keep a seasonal nature table full of natural objects we have collected that the kids can rearrange and add to  (I got this idea from The Creative Family).
  • Collect natural objects for art projects, classification activities, observation.
  • Go camping.  While I like camping, and did it often as a single adult, it is not an activity I relish the thought of doing with small children.  Still, I want my kids to have this experience from a young age.  I think going to wild places for vacations is a wonderful (and economical) way to expose your kids to the natural world, even if you have few other resources in your neighborhood.
  • Learn more about the flora and fauna of my particular region with my kids.  Learn the names of trees, bugs, birds and so on.

I've been collecting resources along the way for how to get my kids out in nature (and there are plenty!).
Here are great sources for additional ideas:

How do YOU keep yourself and your kids connected to Nature? 

Check out how other green moms are connecting to nature with this month's Green Moms Carnival, hosted by The Green Phone Booth.


  1. Great post! Thanks for linking to NWF's resources :)

  2. Thanks for all the great also the suggestion to just let kids play..embracing the mess and chaos. We to often try to micro manage everything these days, even playtime, so letting kids get out in nature and play in the dirt is something we sometimes try to manage away from instead of towards.

  3. what a great resourceful and thoughtful post - it's true things are different now. this time of year a dig for worms is way fun...and if you do worm composting you can bring all of that inside and it's fascinating!! what's cool, about what you do when they are young...sticks with them as they get older. both my adult kids still ride bikes and enjoy the outdoors.

  4. On the top of my list is visiting our CSA. We've belonged for several years and have never visited the farm. Our drop-off is around the corner. I think it's important for my kids to see where their food is coming from. Right now they think it's from the box in our neighbors garage :) Thanks for all the great resources!

  5. Great links and ideas! I agree-- a seasonal table would be neat-- although my clutter phobe husband may not like it.

    I love the Creative Family book as well. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Awesome post. For camping, I highly recommend yurt camping if it is available in your area. Although I enjoy tent camping I thought a yurt would be a less-stressful introduction to camping for a preschooler. We even found a yurt on an alpaca farm so we got up close to a variety of animals!

    When it's too cold or yucky to go outside to play, I recommend playing a cooperative board game called Wildcraft (for ages 4 & up) which teaches kids that plants are not only pretty but useful too.

  7. Camping has been some of our best outdoor experiences! Unfortunately, we don't have much on the calendar for this year but I highly highly recommend it.

    I also totally agree that a lot of "getting out in nature" for me, really, just means me letting go and accepting mess, chaos and whatnot. Nice post!

  8. That's 2 votes for camping! Love the idea of yurt camping! And, yes, it's important to think of some nature-oriented activity for indoors -- a great reason to collect some natural objects for play (that game sounds fun too).


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