One of the greatest struggles in the re-wilding childhood movement is finding creative ways to get city dwelling kids outdoors. With nearly 80% of the American population now living in urban areas the task ahead is significant.
Between indoor comforts, video games, and technological distractions, encouraging “domesticated” children to step into the wild can be a stretch. But, with a little encouragement and creative planning, families can connect to nature even in the heart of an urban jungle.
The truth is we need the next generation to care about and look after the land, water, air, and living things. And in order for adults to care about nature later in life, we need to encourage them as children to develop a relationship with the natural world – even in small ways.
Here are 7 simple tips to encourage nature connection in city loving kids:
1. Take a walk in the park
Every city or town has a park or two. Parent’s can search out these parks and plan regular outings to run, romp, and play. For those super busy families, parents can instead make a pass through a neighborhood green space as part of the morning or after school routine. Incorporating park-friendly habits into the family tempo is essential for making urban nature connection easy.
2. Plant an urban garden
Getting down and dirty with a backyard garden helps city children connect to soil, plants, and food. Kids love experiences that excite the senses and ignite a sense of wonder. Digging holes, planting seeds, and watering the garden is only the beginning. As children watch the plants grow, flower, and then fruit their way to the kitchen table they relate to change and natural rhythm’s differently. Plus, it doesn’t take much space to start an urban garden and children can get a healthy dose of friendly microbes in the process.
3. Stargaze at the local planetarium
Even though it may still be indoors, the planetarium offers kids a chance to expand their minds to the stars. These experiences allow children to realize that the universe is far bigger than them, and that curiosity in nature cannot be tamed. Some of the cloudiest cities have thriving amateur astronomers who are chomping at the bit to get kids excited about stargazing. And often, these events are totally free or donation-based!
4. Play field guide games
In order for children to appreciate nature they need to get cozy with their native flora and fauna. A trip to the local book store or Audubon nature center is a great opportunity to pick up an outdoor field guide. Making plant and animal identification a fun and engaging game can help peak an urban-minded child’s interest. A cooperative game (rather than competitive) that has everyone count or observe insects or tree leaves together can be really exciting for kids.
5. Bring nature home
We all know that nature stuff belongs in nature, and people should tread lightly. However, getting children excited about the natural world through a rock collection or flower press can be an excellent means of personalizing the nature experience. When kids spend time exploring outdoors and want to bring items home to ask deeper questions or continue the nature immersion the relationship goes deeper. These activities plant the seeds for future naturalists and nature protectors.
6. Study the small critters
Children are, of course, wowed by the charismatic mega-fauna of the African savannah. But the most interesting forms of life are often the small and inconspicuous critters in the cracks and crevices of our everyday world. The creepy crawly spiders, ants, and worms offer a whole undiscovered story that is worthy of exploration. Meanwhile, busting out a kid-friendly microscope can allow children to witness the teeming world of water microbes or soil bacteria. The city environment offers abundant opportunities to get down with micro-nature experiences.
7. Watch the weather
Just like looking down to the ground can let kids connect to the earth, looking upward to the sky can expand the imagination. Encourage kids to lie around and watch the clouds change shape, or open the window to let them feel the falling raindrops on their skin. These visual and tactile experiences stimulate the senses and excite the mind. Kids can learn what cloud types there are, how storms ebb and flow, and how the seasons shift gently from one to the next. All of these insights foster keen skills of observation and future years of delight in the natural world.