Summertime! You’re outside with your kids. Now what? How do you encourage them to connect with the natural world? For young children who have an abundance of energy, you may want to help them focus their attention. On the other hand, for older children, especially those who like to always be on electronic devices and looking at screens, you might need to awaken their enthusiasm for nature. The following suggestions cover the range from active to quiet—try a combination to suit your situation.
Scavenger Hunt—Young and old alike enjoy the fun of hunting for “treasures.” A Scavenger Hunt can be done anywhere—in your own backyard, at a park, or along a trail. Begin by making a list of natural objects (either in words or pictures). Provide a paper bag for collecting the items, and a pencil for checking them off the list. You can set a slow and relaxed pace, or ramp up the energy by establishing a time limit. Find tips and suggestions (including printable scavenger hunt sheets) at the National Wildlife Federation and Home Science Tools.
Complete the phrase—This observation activity is highly adaptable—it can be done day or night, as you walk along a trail or sit around a campsite, for a large or a small group. Begin by having one family member point out a natural object that they see in the environment, such as a tree, cloud, or creek. Then, one-by-one, other family members finish these three statements about the object: “I notice…, I wonder…, It reminds me of…” This simple process, suggested by John Muir Laws, can open the door for greater awareness and a deeper connection to nature. Another simple activity that develops awareness and observation skills is “I Spy.” For older children, you can increase the fun by using more complex criteria, such as “I spy something quieter than a mouse,” or “I spy something that’s food for bird.”
Pick a Card—The Nature Portals card deck was designed for adults, but it can be also be adapted to use with children. Every card has a nature photograph on one side, and on the reverse side a suggestion for tuning into nature more fully using all of your senses. Take the cards with you on a nature outing and have each person draw one and read it aloud. Then have the whole group do what it says. For example, you might from use your “hawk eyes” to change your perspective, or put on your “rabbit ears” to listen to the sounds around you. Or maybe you will stretch your body like a tree reaching for the sun, or lay down in the grass to watch the stars at night.
Enjoy your summer! And remember that a good book can pique a child’s interest in exploring the natural world.