Thursday, July 16, 2015

Connecting Kids to Nature

From the bean of Green Bean.

"Wait, where did you see a beetle?" a voice floats back to me, across the dusty trail.

"I still haven't found any cottonwood," my youngest niece intones.

"I'll show you where to look," her older cousin offers, leading her to look down the hill and pointing toward the river. "They seem to grow more down there," he surmises.

We are on a hike. A very hot and very uphill hike. The scenery is beautiful but I would be lying if I said that these kids wanted to be here. At least initially. Until I whipped out a homemade scavenger hunt and offered a prize for all who participated (pack of gum) with a bounty (cold hard cash, people) for the one who found the most items the quickest.

Now, instead of complaining, the older trio is practically running the trail in search of lizards, dragonflies and wildflowers. Their younger counterparts have taken a more thoughtful, methodical approach and have even spotted a mule deer and dung beetle.

By the time we get to the top of the hill, almost all of the scavenger hunts are complete. (Mental note to make longer ones next time!). My teenaged niece has diligently completed hers, noting "bonus" items such as ravens (seen and heard), algae and squirrel. My son has counted 27 tadpoles and made a checkmark on his sheet for each and every one.

I couldn't be happier!

Not only did I get to enjoy the hike but six kids learned about local flora and fauna, developed a better understanding of how animals and plants interact and became interested and invested in the natural landscape.

I cannot take credit for the idea of a scavenger hunt. While reading the book, How To Raise a Wild Child, I came across this and several other practical ways for getting the next generation off of their screens and out into the wild.  This book is part of a burgeoning movement to reconnect kids and nature. The benefits of getting outside are well documented. When we do it, we become healthier, happier, even smarter. Parents consistently rate connecting children with nature as second only to reading in importance. Yet most children spend 6-7 hours daily in front of a screen and only a few minutes outdoors.

My scavenger hunt was just one step toward connecting my children with nature. There are a million more steps we can take: modeling wonder at the birds, mammals and plants (it's not hard!), booking camping trips or other outdoor outings, creating a nature journal complete with illustrations, mixing up the activities (hiking, kayaking, inner-tubing, geocaching, down time at the beach and more), and cutting back on screen time. Eco-Novice wrote a great article a few months ago about using technology to connect kids to nature. Groovy Green Living shares 4 Apps That Making Hiking Fun for the Entire Family.  Mindful Momma has a plethora of tips on getting kids to spend more time outdoors in the summer.  Six years ago, I shared reflections on a summer spent where the wild things are.

What ideas have worked for you?


Burbanmom said...

Great idea for hikes! What gets my kids excited to be outdoors is geocaching. If you're not familiar with it, you can check it out at It's like treasure hunting and teaches kids navigational skills, and the concept of give and take.

Sara Vartanian said...

Although I don't have trouble getting my boys outdoors yet...probably because they are so young, I love the ideas and resources you are sharing. I like having a goal for some of our outing and think it would be motivating for them. Also, I can help direct them to certain observations. Thank you.

Green Bean said...

@Burbanmom - We discovered geocaching just very recently. One of the biggest problems we encounter is not being able to find the cache. We've searched for 5 and only found one. Now it could very much be that we suck at finding things. Or that the caches have been removed (many in our area are over 10 years old). Have you encountered this? Any advice?

@Sara Vartanian - That is so great that you don't have any issue getting your boys outside. Start 'em early! :)

Betsy Escandon said...

Love this. Still hoping to write a few more posts about this book. So many good ideas.

Green Bean said...

I am still working my way through the book, @Betsy. It has so many great ideas that I want to digest it slowly and not miss anything. Thank you for turning me on to it!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin