Most adults have fallen short of intentions for connecting youngsters with nature since school ended. Sports camps and family summer schedules can get in the way of expanding a kid’s mind with exposure to beetles and blossoms.
Taking kids out can plant the seed for lifelong, healthy, active pursuits as well as careers. A kid who learns that bugs are cool has a better chance of being aware that insects — and the food chain they nourish — are threatened by some of society’s choices.
Take aim at the “nature deficit disorder” that’s inflicting young people with this prescription for treatment.
1. Take a walk
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Whether it’s a stroll or a backpacking trip, hiking is easily the most convenient, versatile and accessible option available to get anyone engaged in the outdoors. Nature is everywhere, so don’t put off a walk just because you don’t think you have time to get somewhere “cool.”
Even the knapweed feeding the bees and butterflies in the vacant lot down the street provides a nature experience.
Avoid choosing a walk beyond the kid’s ability and be sure you have plenty of snacks and water. Destinations can be good, but try not to let a destination get in the way of an interesting discovery or detour.
Tip: Our daughters’ “endurance” for being out on foot, canoe or bike increased significantly when we got them their own CamelBak hydration systems.
2. Go camping
Getting into the woods, along a stream or lake and setting up camp for the night is hands down — and hands on — the best outdoor classroom you can create.
From there, the kid can be exposed to creek stomping, berry picking, fishing and nature observation as well as lifelong skills such as fire-making, camp cooking and eluding mosquitoes.
Camping carves out quality time to be one-on-one, which is the most endangered aspect of family life.
Create a daytime scavenger hunt and organize a night walk with headlamps. Listen for owls and watch for “shooting stars.”
3. Read about it
Before, after or during a trek or outing of any kind, consider matching the occasion with appropriate reading for the kid’s age.
Children’s books can unlock imaginations and give kids images to seek out in the real world.
One of my daughters’ favorite outdoor books (more than 20 years ago) was Owl Moon. Probably a dozen times after we first read it to them at bedtime, I piggy-backed a little girl in pajamas into our backyard when I heard the calling of great horned owls.
Browsing nature books at a bookstore or library (ask for advice) can inspire an outing or activity.
For instance, David FitzSimmons, a father and author of the Curious Critters series of children’s nature books, wrote “Salamander Dance” for kids who may never see a live salamander but will be nudged to look for them every time they’re near shallow water.
4. Go high-tech
Although many kids can benefit from going outdoors to “disengage” from electronics, their fascination with devices also can be a boon to connecting with nature.
Geocaching can turn a kid on to following GPS clues to treasures hidden anywhere from streams to mountain tops.
Search online for numerous applications that turn smartphones into nature-study tools. Most apps range from free to about $10.