The world is facing an uncertain future, largely because of human actions. Following the election of a climate-change denying President, can we guarantee the generations of the future will care for the planet? If we want to foster a future where our children can witness and appreciate the natural wonders that we enjoyed in the past, we need to make a change. Increasingly, it is looking like it is up to us to make these changes, to stand up and protect the natural places we know and love. One of the best ways to do this is to take steps in our everyday lives to help the planet, and also to teach our children how they can be good stewards of the earth.
But parents these days are up against the ever-growing allure of TV, computers, and other technologies that keep kids indoors and in front of screens instead of outside, enjoying the wild environment. In short, if children don’t feel a connection to nature, if they don’t climb trees, collect frogspawn and enjoy the pitches of birdsong, they’re unlikely to be motivated to protect it.
We all know kids that opt to spend the weekend battling on Call of Duty instead of playing tag in the woods, and who’s to say it’s not more important nowadays to develop computer skills than go for a country walk? Well, it’s all about balance; scientists agree that a lack of exposure to nature could actually have a negative impact on kids well-being as well as their development of important life skills.
Playing in nature boosts problem-solving skills, emotional well-being, and overall concentration. Research shows that nature also promotes cooperation, which is key if we are to work together to support the planet in future. In conclusion, “Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors,” surmised an authoritative study published by the American Medical Association.
The writer Richard Louv calls the decline in outdoor roaming “nature deficit disorder.” He points towards the rise in obesity and evidence from The Kaiser Family Foundation to make his argument. Collectively, they discovered the average eight-to-eighteen-year-old spends more than 53 hours weekly “using entertainment media,” to illustrate the impact of this disorder. Accordingly, the deficit contributes to “a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses,” as well as a weakened sense of “stewardship for the natural world.”
In a growing world that knows more about brand names than tree leaves, nature will be seen as something disconnected from us, our dependence on it long forgotten. The estrangement can even lead, at its worst, to biophobia: a fear and disgust of non-manmade places. So, if you would like to avoid inevitable tantrums about no wifi or air-conditioning on your family vacation, read on.
1. Arts and Crafts
There’s a lot to be said for painting leaves and printing them on paper. Kids love to make things and there are so many projects they can do. Even repurposing old cardboard boxes can help them to understand that we shouldn’t waste our resources. Once a tree, now a spaceship.
2. Forest Schools and Adventure Playgrounds
Why limit excursions to school trips when nature itself is a school. No literally, Forest schools are not only popular in Europe, America is also recognizing the benefits of children learning outside. If your child is already happily enrolled in preschool, there are some amazing youth-led adventure playgrounds where they can enjoy free-play and build their own worlds.
3. Talk to Your Kids About Nature
Help them to understand that nature is not a born-given right and if they want to enjoy the park, they need to take care of it. Let them know what’s happening to our planet and how they can help by planting a tree, recycling, and taking part in fun community action. They may even be able to teach you a thing or two!
4. Cuddle and Care for Animals
It’s not well-known that 80 percent of dreams for children under six involve animals. Feeling compassion towards animals is something children love and with the decline of wildlife, it’s more important than ever that they spend time with our adorable fluffy companions. If you don’t have a cat or dog in the house, you can help teach your kids about animals by taking them to farm animal sanctuaries, wildlife rescues, and other animal-friendly facilities that educate kids about our four-legged, feathered, and scaly plant-mates.
5. Weekend Walks and Family Vacation
Make it a priority to take in some greenery whenever you can by going for walks. Even if you can’t escape the city, Walk Score is a great way to navigate your route to include as much of the green stuff as possible. Family vacations are another opportunity to spend time together outside, particularly if you go camping.
There really is so much you can do to help your children feel closer to nature. For further inspiration, remember what Edith Cobb discovered about the relationship between well-known geniuses and time spent in nature. Or simply contemplate the awesomeness of the four-year-old rock climber, Hadlie Brechler whose parents founded Born Wild, to connect children with “wilderness and wildness.” Every moment spent outdoors is one that can build a fondness and strong memories for your child. They are the architects of the future but it’s up to us to give them the right building blocks.
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