We as humans are born with a natural urge to connect with the natural world
Biophilia is “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” – Edward O. Wilson
As parents we should preserve our children’s desire to connect with nature. Many studies have shown that interacting with the natural world will give them lifelong psychological and physical benefits. Sometimes loading up and driving out to the wild for a short excursion can seem daunting, especially with little kids. The idea of bringing our children close to the flora and fauna can seem like a huge undertaking requiring ample planning. Truthfully, a great experience for the kids doesn’t have to be so planned out. Our little people still appreciate the small things and their imaginations can make the simplest find a jewel in their memories.
Right in your own backyard
When thinking about free activities to engage your children with the natural world don’t forget about those green places nearby. Sometimes, the best places to start looking are right in your own backyard, those small neighborhood parks, nearby neighborhood green belts, or city parks. If you’ve never really looked before then you’d probably be surprised by just how many insects there are living nearby.
Find a nice spot of grass or dirt and let the little ones dig it up with their hands or a shovel. Underneath any stretch of grass you’ll find a whole world of tiny insects, worms, maybe even a little garden snake. This is a really easy and free way to show your kids how closely we live with our tiny friends.
Leaf rubbings and tree identification
This one requires some materials, but you have kids so you already probably have paper and crayons lying around or stuffed in low sitting electronics.
Go outside and gather up leaves from your neighborhood, talk to your kids about the different kind of leaves and the trees they came from. If you can’t identify them yourself join in the learning and use a great app for tree identification like Virginia Tech Tree ID for Android.
Once you have gathered all the leaves that caught their little eyes, head home and lay them one by one under the paper. One leaf per sheet of blank paper, rub the crayon gently over the paper and watch as the veins, shape and other details of the leaf are colored onto the paper. Use different colors of crayons and turn your leaf prints into a work of art to hang on the fridge or even frame for the walls.
The point of this activity is not only to learn about the giants we live with but also about the beauty of nature.
Bird watching and listening
This activity is probably the most passive, and is probably the easiest when the kids are calming down in the evening and as birds are returning to their nest for the night. Find a nice comfy spot, maybe lying on a blanket under a tree or reclining on your patio and challenge your kids to find birds. Most kids love a challenge right? If you aren’t sure about the birds your seeing and hearing that’s okay. There are many apps already about bird IDs and calls like Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Labs. Have your kids spot the birds and use the apps to discover more about them together.