Date of the last update: 27.09.2022
The earlier a child develops an interest in nature and ecology, the easier it will be for them to achieve a balance when connecting with the natural world. It is our task as parents and caregivers to awaken this passion in life and show kids the natural world. Here are a few tips how to do it.
I remember my first excursions with my grandfather to the forest and the meadow, when we would identify herbs and pick wild flowers. In retrospect, I can see what a huge impact this had on me and, even though so many years have passed, I still remember my first botanical walks with great fondness. It sparked in me a great passion for the plant world, the surrounding nature and spending time outdoors.
Table of Contents:
- The need to return to nature
- Positive change, that is about forest education
- Why connection with nature is important for children
- Nature’s therapeutic effect on life
- How to encourage your child to experience nature
- About the beauty of environmental education
You can read this article in 6 minutes.
The need to return to nature
I can see a significant difference when looking at the young generation today. Children brought up in the 1980s and 1990s, without mobiles and computers, definitely used to spent more time outdoors and were more connected with nature. Today, the ratio of time spent in nature and in front of a computer or phone is definitely disturbed and we need to get children involved in nature again.
There has been a new phenomenon observed in children – the nature deficit syndrome. What does it mean? The vast majority of children spend more time at home than outdoors in the natural environment. Hence, a number of symptoms can appear that affect the toddler’s development and behaviour. Children who spend time away from nature have been noted to have greater concentration problems and even delays in emotional development. They also experience an increased incidence of bacterial and viral diseases, a weakened immune system and difficulties with multisensory learning.
Positive change, that is about forest education
Fortunately, there has been a visible rise in popularity for a certain trend, which makes me extremely happy. You hear more and more about environmental education and the emergence of forest kindergartens, where children spend up to 80% of their time doing things outdoors. Activities focus on direct contact with nature, experiencing and learning new skills through all the senses. This approach to education involves total immersion in and connection with nature, and gives great space for creativity, attentiveness and kindness. It highlights the importance of a healthy lifestyle and goes outside the box of traditional schooling, where students have to spend several hours a day in front of a desk in a sedentary position. Forest schools are about a positive change, physical activity, laughter and a focus on practical skills, with learning through multi-sensory experience of reality at its core. The natural world stimulates all areas of children’s development. Spending time outdoors shapes pro-environmental attitudes: kids learn the processes of nature, start to understand nature better and to care for the environment in a more conscious way.
Why connection with nature is important for children
Children are curious about the world. They embrace reality and want to see, touch and sometimes taste everything that comes their way. There are so many benefits that contact with nature offers to kids. It teaches how the world works, helps to understand the natural cycle of life and death, and introduces children into the laws of nature. Spending time outside develops sensitivity to nature and the surrounding world and effortlessly sparks natural intelligence.
Connecting with nature is an experience that engages all the senses. It allows to touch and feel different textures, the hard, the soft and the sharp and learn what to look out for. Children can observe and see the changes occurring in nature, their hearing and sense of smell are sharpened with the multitude of natural scents and the abundance of essential oils in nature. New foods and flavours also stimulate the sense of taste. The cognitive senses, such as imagination, creativity and perceptiveness are developed, as well.
On the other hand, contact with nature affects the mental zone. It is well known that it has a relaxing and calming effect and makes falling asleep easier. Spending time outside improves concentration and focus, thus preventing children from getting distracted too quickly.
Being in nature means movement and movement is health! Walking, running and jumping, climbing trees are but a few physical activities available in the large and natural playground. Kids learn new skills and eye-hand coordination. What is more, spending time outdoors among the trees boosts immunity.
Making friends with nature induces environmentally friendly behaviour and builds a bond with nature. By shaping sensitivity to the surrounding world in kids and young people we show them that our contact with nature is not only individual, but also affects our entire planet.
Nature’s therapeutic effect on life
Nature is the so-called natural vitamin N available at our fingertips. The special importance of nature in human life is particularly highlighted, for example, in Finland and on one of the Shetland Islands, where doctors prescribe walks in the woods to sick people. Spending time in nature and forest bathing are also appreciated in Eastern culture. Shinrin-yoku is a natural remedy for being overworked, overstimulated and stressed. Forest baths are a celebration of the natural world, walks full of awareness and a sense of oneness with nature. Connecting with nature soothes our nervous system and emotions. It enhances peace of mind and a sense of harmony while reducing stress levels. The beneficial effects of spending time in nature have also been observed in children with ADHD, as contact with nature helps to calm down. While playing outdoors, children can engage into a wide range of activities and games and enjoy plenty of free space.
How to encourage your child to experience nature
A child’s interest in the natural world greatly depends on the way we talk about nature. It is said that as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined. That means that if you get engaged with the natural environment at a young age, the things you learn later on become more natural and more present in your life when you are adult. I owe my passion and love for nature to my grandfather. He was my guide who showed me the enchanted world of plants. Children in the pre-school and early school years (3 to 10 years of age) have a fantastic curiosity for knowledge and a beautiful, undisturbed natural urge to explore their environment. This is the best time to foster your child’s love of nature.
Go for a walk
The simplest methods always work the best. Sometimes a simple walk, unhurried and without a phone in hand, can arouse a passion in a child. Touching different textures of leaves and flowers enhances senses, develops touch and sensitivity. Smelling flowers and rubbing plants releases essential oils and juices – this is natural aromatherapy.
You can show children which plants are edible and how important they are for human life. Every walk can be special. Making bouquets, garlands and floral wreaths, observing leaves flowing downstream can bring so much joy and surprise! Only our imagination is the limit. Spring and summer are a wonderful time when it is easy to nurture your child’s curiosity about the world and nature. Show your toddler unusual gifts of nature, tell stories and observe changing atmospheric phenomena together. Go for a barefoot walk together or pull on your wellies and go out in the summer rain.
Let your child discover the world. Together, you can prepare a little naturalist’s kit: get a magnifying glass, a butterfly net and a notebook for collecting leaves, for example. Allow your child to take souvenirs from walks – pebbles, sticks and flowers. By doing that, you show that you support their interests. You can also create structures with sticks and other collected treasures, do a painting competition exclusively with plants, create pressed plant glass frames, lanterns, figures out of chestnuts and acorns.
A night in a tent?
For kids, but a few things can generate so much thrill and excitement as a night in a tent or a picnic in the woods or park. A real unforgettable experience! New conditions and camping together shape new skills, sharpen hearing and eyesight and, above all, build shared memories and bonds.
Growing plants at home?
How about preparing a mini sprout crop on the windowsill together? By involving your child in the whole process, from sowing the seeds, watering and up to observing how the micro-herbs grow and then harvesting, they see how the whole process works. Maybe you will spark a little gardener’s passion for caring for and nurturing plants?
Take care of animals
Empathy is what brings children very close to nature. So let’s try to show children that animals are sentient beings, too, and sometimes need our help. Sometimes even a small gesture can affect a child’s imagination powerfully enough to firmly establish the need to care for animals.
About the beauty of environmental education
The beauty of environmental education lies in the fact that it shows a holistic approach to the world, it is interdisciplinary and long-term. Our lives are intrinsically linked with nature. By spending time out in natural environment we build a sense of oneness with nature, thus nurturing a sense of love for nature, others and the whole world.
- Bąk, A., Leśny, A., Palamer-Kabacińska, E. (2014). Przygoda w edukacji i edukacja w przygodzie. Outdoor i adventure education w Polsce. Warsaw: Fundacja Pracownia Nauki i Przygody [Manufacture of Science and Adventure Foundation].
- Kruszwicka A, Bałachowicz J., Klichowska A. (2020), Jak dziecko poznae przyrodę?
- Laska E.I., Między dzieciństwem a dorosłością – dzieci odkrywają przyrodę, Wydział Zamiejscowy Nauk Humanistycznych i Społecznych w Mysłowicach , NiS 2017/2, No 62 / ISSN 1426-9899
- Louv R., Ostatnie dziecko lasu. Jak ocalić nasze dzieci przed zespołem deficytu natury [Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder], translation: A. Rogozińska, Warsaw, 2020.
- Parczewska, T. (2017). W stronę przyrody: o norweskich praktykach edukacji na zewnątrz, Zeszyty Naukowe Wyższej Szkoły Humanitas. Pedagogika, (15), 181–192.
- Tarasenko G., Kształtowanie estetycznego stosunku do przyrody u dzieci w młodszym wieku szkolnym w środowisku rodzinnym, Scientific Yearbook of the Kujawsko-Pomorska Higher School in Bydgoszcz.
- Transdyscyplinarne Studia o Kulturze (i) Edukacji no 6, 99-114, 2011
- Tuszyńska L., Przyroda jako wartość wczesnej edukacji dziecka na drodze zrównoważonego rozwoju, Maria Grzegorzewska Academy of Special Education in Warsaw