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Nurturing with Nature: Easy Ways to Help Kids Connect With the Great Outdoors

Whether your family is hoping to foster an appreciation for all living things or simply cut down on screen time and get some fresh air, there are plenty of accessible and meaningful ways to help children develop and grow their relationship with nature. 

Get Crafty

Glue. Crayons. Construction paper. Various pieces of nature gathered from the yard. That’s all it will take for your little artist to create some amazing nature-centric masterpieces. From designing a mosaic out of interesting rocks, bark, and acorns to making a colorful leaf rubbing, developing your child’s budding appreciation of nature is as easy as adding a little imagination to everyday backyard items. Families can even hold a nature art show for artists to showcase their creations!

Go On a Scavenger Hunt

For the younger set, a nature scavenger hunt is just the ticket to engage them with all the wonders of the outdoors on a smaller scale that’s closer to home. Provide kiddos with a picture or written list of things they’re to find in the yard or on a neighborhood walk (think leaves, sticks, pinecones, a bird feather, dandelions, etc.). As they find each item, make it a teachable moment by explaining where the item came from and its role in nature.

Take a Hike

If visions of scaling Old Rag Mountain with a small child in tow or traversing the Appalachian Trail with the entire family come to mind when you think of hiking, fear not! Hitting the trails needn’t require loads of gear, time, or distance. Instead, hiking can be as simple as a brief stroll along a flat trail or even exploring the nearby woods. From urban paths to more challenging routes through state parks, hikes are a great way to connect with nature. Websites like alltrails.com or americanhiking.org detail all types of hikes in your neck of the woods. 

Start a Garden

Whether you carve out a substantial plot in your yard or opt for a small tomato plant on your balcony, a garden of any size will help kids become familiar with the stages of growth, develop an appreciation for where food comes from, and understand the power of nature. Plus, in the end, they’ll be able to taste the fruits (or veggies) of their labor. 

Become a Bird Watcher


Investing in a bird guide is a surefire way to hook your little one on wildlife. From learning how to recognize birds by their color and song to watching them search for food or build a nest, birds are a delightful and engaging entry to the bounty of nature in your backyard. Up the ante with adding a birdfeeder or birdhouse (homemade or store bought) to your landscape.

Sample Water Quality


One of my fondest childhood memories is helping my father gather water quality samples for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation at our neighborhood dock. The samples we collected helped the CBF monitor the health of the waterway and kicked off conversations about pollution and the importance of protecting our natural resources. Reach out to local conservation groups to see if they enlist volunteers for this purpose.

“Adopt” a Pet

Growing up on Weems Creek just off the Severn River, my brother and I spent many an hour watching mallard ducks in the small cove by our house. We informally “adopted” one of the male ducks by naming him (Jimmy, if you’re curious) and keeping tabs on him as he flew, interacted with other mallards, or bobbed for food. These days, my older daughter has “adopted” a pair of mourning doves who frequent our backyard. In both cases, it was and has been a joy to watch young minds learn about animals’ habits and habitats, even from a distance. (Adults, you’ve guessed it; just play along even if the “pet” isn’t actually the exact one your child “adopted” initially!)

Plant a Tree


As simple as it may seem, planting a tree offers a tremendous opportunity to teach children that a number of species (humans included) depend on trees for shelter, food, and clean air. Check out your local nursery or conservation group to see what they might have available, or consider joining the Arbor Day Foundation; new members can receive free seedlings to plant. Just be sure that whatever tree you plant is native to the region.

Read!

When you can’t physically head outdoors, cultivate nature appreciation by opening a good book about animals or adventures in the wild. Fiction or nonfiction, there’s no shortage of children’s literature featuring plants, animals, weather, and ecosystems. If you’re looking for a nature “how-to” read, this writer is pleased to recommend “i love dirt!” by Jennifer Ward, which presents 52 activities to help kids connect with nature. From searching for earthworms after it rains to playing games in the wind, the activities span the seasons and provide plenty of opportunity for discovery and fun- for child and parent alike.

By Laura Adams Boycourt

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