How to Inspire Your Child to Explore Nature
Thanks to the current culture and the rise of electronic games, more children have been choosing to stay at home during the day than ever before. However, outdoor exploration is
good for children’s development and can play a powerful part in helping them become independent, curious individuals. Here are some ways you can encourage your child to explore the outdoors — and keep them safe in the process.
The Benefits of Nature
The specific type of outdoor exploration depends, of course, on the age of your child. Even the smallest patch of land can yield unfamiliar wonders — there is a significant amount of meditative
relaxation that comes from just watching ants march. Several studies indicate that exposure to nature improves mental functioning, memory, creativity, and vision, and reduces stress and inflammation. Part of the appeal of nature for children is that it gives them the opportunity to explore on their own terms, investigating what they find interesting. This sense of freedom helps develop their confidence and overall sense of self. It can be difficult, however, to convince children that spending time in nature is worthwhile — after all, telling your children outright to go dig
a hole is more likely to be taken as an insult than a suggestion for their well-being. Instead, inspire their curiosity by making every facet of nature an adventure.
Creating an Adventure in Your Own Backyard
You don’t have to go far to create an adventure. Even your backyard can provide an interesting array of things to do, holes to dig, and bugs to examine. Set an example by getting in the grass yourself, and don’t be afraid to get messy! Once nature is more normalized in your family, children will be much more likely to go outside of their own volition. Try to find a nice balance between doing things as a family and letting your child explore on his own. You might try putting together a scavenger hunt (for example, locate a dandelion, a blue beetle, and a cardinal). Your child may find interesting things in the process aside from the guided tour; if he seems excited about an insect he saw, ask open-ended questions that allow him to express his excitement. This kind of exploration can also extend to your local park. Depending on the makeup of your park, your child can have very different experiences — there may be tree stumps to jump on, creeks to splash in, and hills to climb.
The Appeal of Backyard Geology
Backyard geology is another great way to involve your kids in the outdoors while helping them learn. All you need are some digging tools, a notepad, a sifting pan, and a magnifying glass. Teach your child about the three major classes of rock (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic), and explain that each type of rock is more common in different types of region. Then let your child run around, collecting whatever rocks he can find, eventually bringing them back to clean them off and attempt to identify them. This can be particularly thrilling once the rocks get cleaned or cracked open — your child may find that mundane exteriors may conceal colorful, sparkling interiors. Backyard geology also gives children an actual excuse to dig around in the dirt while still learning, which can encourage even the most skeptical of kids to give it a try.
Remember to Explain Safety Procedures
When your child is outside, keep them safe by setting boundaries, like a distance in which they can roam or a time for them to return. (If they are younger, keep them in view.) Keep a first aid kit with you in case of a fall, and take the opportunity to teach your child about different parts of outdoor safety, like seasonal behavior (cold weather vs. hot weather) and plants they should avoid.
Exploring nature is a great way for your child to develop curiosity and a sense of wonder. By gently nudging them into the outdoors, you can help foster behaviors that will positively impact the rest of their lives.
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