Few things help me feel closer to God than being out in nature.
Whether sipping coffee in my backyard or going for a hike in a misty forest, wonder at the beauty of God’s created world fills my soul when I step outside my door.
The way nature makes us feel close to God is captured beautifully in Anne of Green Gables when Anne says:
If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep, woods, and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.
Because I love God’s creation, I want to share that love with my kids. I also appreciate the countless cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits of time spent in nature.
On top of that, I’ve found that, as they say, “nature makes a great babysitter”: When we go outside, my kids become happily occupied and I have a little time to read or relax.
If you’d also like to raise little tree huggers, here are some of the things I do to raise kids who love nature.
Go on lots of walks
Nature calms and regulates kids of all ages. My grandma who had six kids and 20 grandchildren once told me, “If the baby won’t stop crying, just take her outside and she’ll stop.” This tip totally worked for my kids.
Going on a walk doesn’t have to mean some long and strenuous hike: Sticking close to home totally counts!
When one of my babies had colic and cried a lot, I would load the toddler and baby in the stroller and walk the neighborhood every evening, often feeding the toddler dinner in the stroller.
I try to have the mindset that going outside is wonderful and makes everyone feel better.
Teach nature lore
My kids really enjoy identifying birds and plants, and it can easily turn into a fun game. Bird watching and plant identification satisfy that inner human urge for collecting.
To help my kids learn the habits and behaviors of animals, I read to my kids from the works of Thornton Burgess, who wrote several lively books about birds and animals (his books are available as audiobooks, too).
Along with learning fun and interesting facts about plants and animals, I also teach my kids to practice safety outside, including identifying poison ivy and toxic plants like pokeweed, as well as how to check for ticks. This knowledge empowers them to keep themselves and others safe as we explore the great outdoors: One of my kids actually saved another child from trying to eat pokeweed at one point.
Grow plants or a garden
Gardening is such a great hands-on way to get kids involved in learning about the natural world, and it doesn’t have to be a full garden.
When I lived in an apartment with two young kids, we had just a few potted plants in our home, things like succulents and herbs.
Kids love to help water and care for plants of all sizes.
Live your ordinary life outside
The great educator Charlotte Mason once said, “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.”
While I don’t take it quite that far, I’m always looking for opportunities to get outside more. We try to eat meals outside whenever the weather cooperates, we often do homework and schoolwork outside on our front porch, and we pack picnics to extend trips to playgrounds and forest preserves.
Playtime can also move outside whenever possible. One of my friends lets her kids play with LEGOs outside on their patio, while another has waterproof dolls that her kids play with in the yard. I let my kids take plastic animals outside to play in a bin of water.
Stepping outside makes an ordinary game or toy feel new and special. Outside is also the best place for a messy activity like kinetic sand or painting. Keep that stuff off your floors, right?
Encourage your child to keep a nature journal
Children can keep a regular record and draw or paint or write what they see outside.
The entries can be very simple, such as noting the ants on the sidewalk, but this practice builds a habit of attention and observation that is very useful in any adult field. Even better, it helps our kids to be curious and interested in the world around them.
When I think of raising kids who love nature, I think of an old story called “Eyes and No Eyes” about two boys who walked through the same landscape but experienced it totally differently, because one was paying attention and one was not.
For myself and my kids, I find that spending time in nature and turning our powers of attention and observation on the natural world makes us happier and helps us to enjoy life more. I hope these suggestions can help you find the same to be joyfully true for your family, too!