Spending Time With Kids in Nature Encourages Conservation
“Hey, kiddo, it’s time to visit Josephine,” I say to my 8-year-old.
Waiting for my son to respond, I hear the chatter of the Minecraft play-through he’s watching. Reminding my kid we agreed to visit Josie today, he groans and trudges off to find his shoes. After his overwhelming day, visiting Josephine is the unstructured release I know he needs: Josephine is my kid’s favorite tree in the park around the corner.
Nature’s Calming Effect
Motherhood has taught me many life lessons, like sleep is more important than … pretty much anything, that cheese crackers are a food group, and that nature has a calming effect on my son. When he was an infant, a stroll in his stroller helped him relax before bedtime. Then as a toddler, afternoon play out-of-doors calmed his overstimulated brain. And now as he grows older, it may take a bit more encouragement to move him from screen time to outdoor time, but once there, his smile grows and I can feel a grounding take root.
Building Curiosity and Expanding Exploration
Studies show when kids spend time outdoors, it builds confidence, broadens attention spans, and bridges to learning responsibility. Emi Yoshimura, educational director of the popular 150-acre Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles, says time in outdoor spaces supports an appreciation for nature. “In order to care about something, you first have to experience it,” says Yoshimura. So, taking time to introduce kids to the natural wonders in public gardens and your neighborhood is a good step to building this appreciation. “It gives children the opportunity to be curious and explore,” says Yoshimura.
The School of Mother Nature
Staying curious is important because as Yoshimura explains, it’s this interest that leads to a connection with Mother Earth. Yoshimura says from that first exposure, kids then develop a feeling like they’re a part of nature. Ryan Devlin, the director of Thrive Forest Pre-School in Louisville, Kentucky, says, “There’s a miracle that happens outside every day.” For those wondering what a “forest preschool” looks like, Devlin explains it’s “a school without walls” where children ages 3 to 6 are outside in all weather learning through exploratory play.
Devlin echoes the belief that spending time in the great outdoors creates a personal connection with nature. He says for parents and caregivers wanting to foster this connection, show children how to love what’s in their own backyard and the green spaces around them. This could be something like noticing that tiny dandelion peeking up from the crack in the sidewalk because as Devlin reminds, “There’s real magic and tangible beauty there.”
Bonding and Belonging in Nature
Focusing on one natural element like a dandelion (or in my son’s case, a tree), is a way both Yoshimura and Devlin suggest parents and caregivers can continue to nurture appreciation. Yoshimura says really spending time with that one plant can help kids develop a close relationship with it, and creating a bond in this way moves you to notice how that flower or tree (and the animals around it) change and grow. “This is how you can start to develop a feeling of belonging with nature,” Yoshimura says.
Creating Wonder With Your Child
It’s in these quiet moments of observation when Devlin suggests becoming a “co-discoverer” with your child. It’s more connective and exciting to discover the outdoors together and you can do this by asking open-ended questions like: “What do you think that is?” This creates space for your child to put on their imaginative thinking cap. “What you want to present to your child is that you’re there to discover with them and this puts you on the same page,” Devlin says. The wonder you create together bolsters your link with the natural world and strengthens the bonds you share.
Support Local Initiatives That Positively Impact Green Spaces
As your kiddo increases their ties to the green spaces around them, an interest in conservation can begin to sprout. Big discussions about large environmental issues can feel overwhelming. Yoshimura suggests looking for specific actions on a local level. “There’s a lot to support and help out within the green spaces locally,” she says. This way, kids can easily see how their stewardship impacts their world, and when the time is right, you can translate this to helping on a global level. Devlin reminds us that something as simple as talking about how the different trash cans we use impact our world can serve as a small introduction to a larger concept.
Allow Space for Your Child To Create Memories With Nature
At the park, I watch my son quietly talk to Josephine. He makes countless circles around her trunk and creates a game jumping over her exposed roots. “When you have the urge to step in, step back,” Devlin says. This gives your kids opportunities to create memories with nature. I watch my kid put his ear up to her trunk and I ask him what he hears. He says, “No sound. Just love.”