Daphne Lynch, 2019
Like many of you, I fell in love with nature as a child. I grew up in the rural mountains of Pennsylvania with acres of forest to explore at my feet. Fast forward to adulthood and I found myself starting a family in the DFW area. I now have two children of my own, two boys (a 3 year old and a 7 month old). It is a priority of mine to help them understand and appreciate the nature around them, but I have been struggling on how to accomplish this in the suburban setting. I can’t just send them outside and tell them “you’re not allowed inside until its supper time” – direct quote from my mother. I’m not an expert in the area of child engagement but from my progress so far with the three year old, I think it’s going pretty well. Here are some of my tips for getting children interested in nature:
- Make their stories come to life – Young kids especially love books and being read to. When my child sees something in real life that was in one of his books it blows his little mind. Recently I purchased a children’s book titled The Cottonwood Tree. This book was authored by a Master Naturalist in Colorado. I read it to my three year old a few times, then I told him on the weekend we were going to go on an adventure in search of a cottonwood tree in our neighborhood. He loved it and took a leaf home as a souvenir.
- Ask them for help – Kids love being helpers and getting praised for helping. I purchased a little watering canister and my toddler “helps” me water the plants (sometimes he is the one reminding me to do the watering). While making observations for the Pollinator Citizen Science Project thru Texas A&M AgriLife Extension I have him “help” watch for insects. When I’m digging in the dirt I normally have the assistance of a Tonka dump truck and excavator. Most of the time the “help” I receive ends up making a little more work for me but it is worth it because my child is learning how to care for nature.
- Lead by example – Kids notice everything. A few weeks ago he came running into the living room and declared he had seen a bird out front and needed to find out what it was. He then proceeded to grab the bird identification guide off the book shelf and find his bird. It was adorable and warmed my heart. He surprisingly opened the bird guide to the page with the Painted Bunting but then pointed to the Varied Bunting and said that is what he saw. I don’t think he correctly identified his bird, we will work on this.
- Gifts – Who doesn’t love getting gifts? Get your kid a useful toy or tool that they can use to explore nature. My son has an insect collecting kit. He used to be scared to lift up rocks and see what was underneath. Now he comes to me with a cage full of “roly-polies” and an occasional earthworm. Child binoculars are next on my list so he can improve his birding.
I have hope seeing the interest in nature my child is starting to show. It just takes a little effort on our part to help guide them along that path. Just last week I pointed out what a crepe myrtle is, now his favorite thing to do in the car is point out crepe myrtles (this may have been a mistake on my part because all I hear while driving now is “there is crepe myrtle, there’s a crepe myrtle, there’s one, there’s one, there is a pink crepe myrtle, there is a purple one”, etc. etc.)