Children are born curious about the things around them. They wonder, they ask questions, they learn, they observe, and make deductions. Exploring nature with children will help foster their learning and growth no matter what age they are.
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Exploring Nature with Children
Your children are naturally inquisitive and want to learn and figure out the connections around them. Their minds are growing and expanding. As a parent, you have the ability to encourage that growth in areas that will help them develop compassion, gentleness, and kindness.
Teaching children about the world around them and to be interested in nature will help them develop these positive character traits as they are growing.
I will never forget the memory of my daughters catching fish in their bare hands as our pond overflowed after a huge rainstorm. They desperately tried to catch all the fish that had overflowed out of the pond and put them back in the water.
This act of compassion and kindness was one they had learned from lots of interaction with nature, animals, and learning about being gentle.
6 Benefits of Exploring Nature with Children
Children learn from exposure. The more opportunities they have to learn and ask questions, the more they will learn and develop an interest in a topic.
A few benefits from exploring nature with children include the following:
- Exploring nature with children provides new opportunities to learn in new environments.
- Being in nature reduces stress and anxiety and provides fresh air along the way.
- Exploring the outdoors with kids often includes getting exercise for you and the kids!
- Spending time outside often, helps children develop resilience, persistence, and inquiry.
- Being outside helps your eyes adjust to seeing things far away and beyond a screen.
- Exploring in nature helps children use their five senses and learn through all of them.
- When you spend time in nature, you have the opportunity to connect your child with God and his amazing creations.
How do You Encourage a Child to Explore in Nature?
There are many ways to expand your routine to include getting outside. Here are a few simple ways to do more exploring and learning with your child.
Take your children to places where they will encounter wildlife. Going to the zoo, farm or petting zoo allows children to interact with animals that they might not have at home. At least at our house, we don’t have a giraffe!
Read the signs to or with them and help them connect the animals and information with information they can relate to.
Ask questions. “Why does a prairie dog live in the ground?” “Why does a peacock fan out his tail?” “Watch the chicken. Do his eyes look straight out in front of him or do they look side to side?”
Allow your children to ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, help them find the answer. This teaches children that every question is a good one and just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Some great places to gain exposure to animals…
Whether you live in the city or the country, there is a wealth of opportunity around you. You don’t have to pay for an expensive membership or have a barn full of animals. Use this list to help you brainstorm ways to help your child interact with different animals.
- National Parks (especially Teton National Park and Yellowstone)
- Petting zoo
- Animal shelter
- Wildlife refuge
- Fish hatchery
- Visit a pond in the spring and look for tadpoles, frogs, and baby fish
- The ocean (seals, fish, shells, whales, birds, raccoons, etc)
- Backyard bird/squirrel feeders
- Ant hill in your driveway
- Bird nest in your porch
- Spider webs on your fence
Be an Example of a Nature Explorer to Your Kids
Children learn from the example of the people around them. If they see you talking on the phone, they will naturally mimic your behavior.
If they see you taking an interest in the world around them and engaging them with questions and information, children will develop an interest in that as well.
Train your own eyes to watch for wildlife. It takes some practice, but once you start looking for deer or other animals, you will notice them as you are driving. Get a bird book or app and start identifying the birds in your backyard.
One of our favorite family vacations is going to Teton National Park. The best part about the trip is watching for wildlife. We have a couple of favorite haunts where we often see bears, moose, beavers, and other large animals.
We have looked for wildlife so much that we know exactly what we are looking for and often see animals that others don’t see. Our children learned to watch carefully for wildlife as well and they can spot the animals as quickly as we can!
Just like anything else, exploring nature gets easier and more in depth the more you do it. The more you learn about the birds, the more birds you will notice. The more your child discovers, they more they will want to discover.
Provide Opportunities for Children to Explore NatureProviding time and space for children to engage with the world around them will encourage their inquiry. When you spend time together hiking or camping, there will be opportunities to explore the nature around you. This can provide lots of conversations about why, how, when, etc.
Spending time outside also provides more possibilities to see and observe the nature around you.
Sitting on the porch or inside the living room window looking at the bird feeder can provide a setting to see different species of birds or squirrel antics.
Watch the stars at night, learn about the trees around you and why some lose their leaves in the fall. Find out what wildlife lives in your neighborhood and watch for it.
We recently had a bobcat wander through our backyard. It was only visible for a few minutes and if we hadn’t been looking out the window, we would have missed it completely!
We’ve had several fawns raised in our backyard, coyotes wander through, we’ve heard a fox, and seen raccoons on our back porch.
And, of course, we have squirrels at our bird feeders! Every spring they bring their babies and teach them how to climb up the bird feeder poles!
Observe the birds in your backyard and try to find out where their nests are without disturbing them. Take the time to stop and watch and observe with your children.
Tools of the Trade for Exploring with Children in Nature
When your children begin to be aware of the world around them, you may need a few accessories to help them learn and discover.
Bird books or nature guide books are great to help children develop the research skills they will need for many things in life. There are also great bird identification apps for your phone.
Teach your children how to identify the backyard birds and keep a list of the different varieties. Listen to their songs or chirps and learn to identify birds by the sounds they make.
Binoculars are a must if you want to see wildlife. You can get large or small binoculars, but if you want your children to be able to see things, make sure the binoculars will adjust to small faces as well as large.
Encourage your children to journal about what they see. Draw pictures of the animals or birds and write descriptions of where they saw them, what they were eating or doing. Go on an exploration like Lewis and Clark and document the things around you.
Books about how to draw animals will also help your children as they learn about animals or birds. These books are our favorite drawing books and they have simple step-by-step instructions but the animals look realistic and simple.
Drawing animals and birds also helps a child (or parent) learn about the details of the animal and take note of different things than simply seeing a deer in the backyard or a bird at the bird feeder.
Drawing tools such as good drawing pencils, colored pencils or markers make the process of journaling or drawing what you see fun and exciting.
Nature journals are best if they are portable and they lay flat for ease of writing or drawing. Find one that will fit in the backseat of the car or in your child’s backpack so that it goes with you when you travel.
Photograph the nature around you. Purchase a good, inexpensive digital camera that your child can use to take pictures of the things around them.
Depending on their age, they may need some practice and guidance for taking good pictures, but they will enjoy focusing on the bird, animal, or leaf and see it from a different perspective through the lens of a camera than simply walking past it on a trail.
You might be surprised at the pictures your child will take. They will be a different perspective than the photos you take.
Read stories about animals with your children. Our very favorite animal storybooks are written by Sam Campbell. Sam and his wife lived on an island in a large lake in Wisconsin.
The books contain the stories of all the wildlife that lived around them. We have read these stories over and over again to our children while we were traveling, at bedtime, or just for fun.
The stories capture the love of wildlife that Sam and his wife had and they share the funny escapades of their wildlife neighbors.
A flower press is a fun way to collect different plant leaves and flowers and help your children save the beauty they find around you. There are so many fun craft ideas using pressed flowers or leaves.
You can make bookmarks, handmade paper, candles, artwork, greeting cards, gift tags and so many other beautiful things.
You may also need a bug jar and a magnifying glass. If you are learning about small creatures such as bugs, spiders, butterflies, bees, frogs, turtles, feathers, and other small creatures or items, your child will enjoy using a magnifying glass to explore a bit closer.
One summer, we had a 5-gallon bucket on the back porch for weeks that was filled with tad-poles. My girls would reach in and let the tadpoles squirm around in their hands in the water.
They spent hours watching them, playing with them and then discovering their tiny little legs and their shrinking tails.
Be prepared! Once your children discover a love of nature, you may need to give up your favorite Tupperware bowl for a home for a turtle for some time of observation. Or your favorite spaghetti spoon may become a fish catcher for minnows or tadpoles.
Be ready to explore and learn right along with your children and encourage their exploration.
Exploring Nature to Build Character in Children
Learning about the creatures around you, helps your children develop compassion. If you have been feeding the birds and then the first snow comes and the bird feeders are empty, your children can empathize with the cold and hungry birds and want to feed them.
When you care about something, you are going to want to help if you can. If your children are interacting with animals, they will learn that in order to develop trust, they must be kind and gentle.
Learning about nature also provides opportunities to learn about how God created the animals and birds and how He made them each special with individual differences, strengths, camouflage for protection, and the instincts to raise their babies.
Watching a baby squirrel struggle to climb up the bird feeder pole teachers about resilience and perseverance.
These are illustrations you can use when you are encouraging your child to grow.
Why should you encourage a love of nature in your children?
Encouraging your children to explore and learn about the world around them through nature is the best way to teach them to care for the world and the resources around them.
They will learn about working hard by watching the ants, they can observe gentleness by watching a cat bathe another cat, they could learn about faithfulness and loyalty from watching bees in a hive. They can learn about love from spending time with a dog or cat.
In all of their exploration, you can direct your children to God as the creator of all and talk about the beautiful plan He made in the beginning and the beautiful plan He has in Heaven.
Ultimately, a love of nature easily turns into compassion and gentleness towards other people as well. These are character traits that you want your child to learn and exhibit. The ability to think about how someone else might feel or caring for a sick or injured animal or person.
Learning to love learning about things around you helps you be a better steward of resources such as clean water, clean air, protecting the wildlife and people.
Here are 5 simple things you can do today to encourage your child to explore nature.
- Hang up a bird feeder
- Check out a nature book from the library
- Go on a nature walk/scavenger hunt
- Pick flowers, leaves, or wild grass and bring them in and make an arrangement for your table
- Order the supplies you need for focusing on nature (shopping link above in blue)
Once you begin exploring nature with children, you will definitely want to try camping with your kids! There are so many benefits and rewards to spending time together in a campground!
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you may be planning a trip to Alaska. Here are some of the best family-friendly places to see in Alaska!