It seems like kids these days are rarely without a screen in front of their noses. So how does a nature-loving mom, dad, or grandparent get their kids to ditch the devices and wake up to the world around them? Here are our top 10 tips.
1. Give them their own garden
Yes, this entails some work for you as well, but there’s nothing like growing and eating their own food to give kids an appreciation for the natural world. From how seeds turn into plants to how insects and animals can help (or hurt) what’s growing, a garden is a perfect mini-classroom to explore the ins and outs of where food comes from.
2. Focus on unstructured play
Don’t “manage” children’s experiences when they’re in nature—simply let them explore, touch, and smell anything that interests them (as long as they’re safe, of course). While it’s tempting to turn each interaction into a teachable moment, allow kids to be curious and indulge their senses and observational skills without an adult jumping in to be the “expert.”
3. Let them get dirty
Being in nature is about getting wet, muddy, and disheveled—and, potentially, stung by a bee or scraped by a rock. While kids need to be kept safe from serious injury, don’t encase them in bubble wrap: let them wade into the shallow creek, climb the tree, and touch the slimy stuff. If they’re old enough, let them head out in a group and explore without adults around. Knowing they can handle themselves in the natural world gives kids a definite sense of confidence.
4. Don’t let the weather stop you
As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather—just inappropriate clothing. Invest in good rain and snow gear, and nothing will get in the way of your outdoor exploring. You see a lot of interesting things when it’s not sunny out, so make a point of getting out in “bad” weather.
5. Read them books about nature
Kids of any age will enjoy books about nature—and books are a great way to remind kids how much fun it is to get outside, even when it’s bedtime. Older kids will enjoy nature books as well—think classics like Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, or even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books.
6. Find a “secret” natural place and go back to it often
Finding a spot that feels like it’s a secret paradise can be key in cementing great memories of being outdoors. Whether it’s a lookout spot or a quiet rock by a pond, visiting the same place over and over builds up a connection to the outdoors and lets kids see how a place can change over the seasons.
7. Go camping
There’s nothing like a night spent under the stars to give kids an appreciation for nature. If you’re not an experienced camper, never fear—provincial and national parks offer lots of options for families, including car camping, rustic cabins, and yurts. Once your kid has spent a night in front of a campfire and heard an owl hoot or a wolf howl in the distance, they won’t want to go home.
8. Set a good example
Are you on a hike but paying more attention to your phone than the forest around you? Put down your own electronics and model the behaviour you’d like your kids to imitate. Devices aren’t bad in the outdoors—they can help you identify a plant, figure out a constellation, or take an awesome picture—but they should be tools for enjoying the natural world, not replacements for it.
9. Try new activities
If you’re a little tired of hiking, try kayaking, ziplining, or rock climbing. Kids are always up for something new, so keep them interested in the outdoors by switching up what you do together. Just remember—you don’t always have to be doing something. Just sitting and observing can be an eye-opening experience.
10. Get them their own tools
A pair of binoculars, a multi-tool, their own water bottle—having their own gear can be a huge boost for a kid. Teach them how to tie up their own hiking boots, walk them through how to use a knife safely, clip a carabiner to their belt loops, and you’ll have an outdoorsy kid for life.
What are your tips for getting kids away from the screens and out into nature?