The second priority on my list for my boys at ages 5 and 2 is Exploration and Nature.
I’m not aware of many families who don’t love nature and see the value in getting out into it, but unfortunately there must be some reason that a book like Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv is being written. No, I have not read that book, but it and many others on this list look intriguing. I hope to read some of them.
I have always loved nature. I was lucky to have parents who enjoyed getting out into nature, and with them, I’ve traveled to many national parks in the U.S. My dad loved boating, so we were often on a lake on weekends too.
My husband grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and he and his friends would play in an alleyway. He said one of their neighbors would be enraged if any of the kids stepped one foot onto the small square of grass that was his front yard. Fortunately, I had a nice yard as a child, although I have done my fair share of living in apartments too.
Anyway, my husband and I both fell in love with our yard before we fell in love with the house, although we love it too. We have less than an acre, but it’s still big by our standards, and it has woods with a variety of trees. So our nature and exploration starts in our own yard.
Here are some simple things I do to let my boys explore and appreciate nature:
- I let my boys get dirty.
- I let them play with sticks.
- I don’t discourage them from looking under rocks or branches.
- I take them to parks and nature centers as often as I can.
- We created a Wildlife Habitat in our yard.
- My husband and I have started a hiking ritual.
- I have signed the five-year-old up for classes at the Sandy Creek Nature center.
- We watch a lot of nature shows on T.V.
- I tell stories set in nature, and I make a big deal of taking care of animals and the earth.
- Sometimes I take my boys outside at night to see the stars and the moon.
- My son has a treasure box, and he fills it with treasures found in nature.
- In the spring, we plant.
- In the summer, we water and tend our vegetables and flowers.
- In the autumn, we collect leaves and seeds.
- In the winter, we still admire the plants.
Most importantly, I hope that I impart the wisdom to respect and take care of nature and be very careful with it. We follow my son’s knee-high naturalist teacher’s advice when turning over rocks and large branches. Pull it towards you. If there’s an animal under it, doing this will allow that animal an escape route. It will also keep you safe!
I used to be wary of letting the boys play with sticks, but then I saw this Ted Talk by Gever Tulley, and it gave me a different perspective. So I give firm rules about playing with sticks. (And I keep my eyes on them like glue!) They can’t get too close to each other when they have a stick, and if they don’t follow this rule, the sticks have to be put down.
Once I needed to channel their energy and the stick toting, so with some fast thinking, I started making this little “shelter,” and the boys helped me gather the sticks and build it.
We are also fortunate that we live in rural Georgia, though we’re between the big city and a college town, which supplies us with a lot of culture and art. We are two hours from the nearest mountain hiking trails, and we’re five hours from the ocean. But when we can’t travel, we have Ft. Yargo, The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Sandy Creek Nature Center and many other parks and places to get us outside.
But wait. I didn’t mean for “Exploration” to only imply exploration of nature. I let my boys explore everything as long as it’s safe to do so. When my five-year-old asks me questions about the human body, I get a book about the human body, a human body model and we also look online. We explore his questions.
When my two-year-old wants to get into the cupboards, I lock the ones that aren’t safe, and I allow him to crawl into the other ones, pull out the pots, bowls, and whatever else might be in there. I let him explore the world around him.
My husband and I have taken our boys to museums, aquariums, zoos, parks, and wildlife areas as much as we can. Together we explore what’s out there.
I don’t consider myself an expert on kids; I’m learning this as I go. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that kids need freedom to explore, and they need nature. Even if it’s just a small park with some grass they can roll around in. But my hope for all children is that they can have the whole world.
I could go on and on about this subject, but I would like to hear from you. Please tell me what you do to encourage your children to explore the world and get into nature.