Home and Garden

How to get kids into nature

Woman leads nature lesson with young children

(Photo: Ryan Macdonald)

Kids who experience nature’s mystery and beauty will grow up caring about protecting it.

Being attentive to life helps us better understand and act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and embedded in and indebted to the Earth.

Most children are curious explorers, so you don’t need to do much to cultivate their nature connection — just take them outside (rain or shine) and get out of their way!

Ten ways to know nature

Child rolling over a log

1. Roll over a log or rock

Find a salamander, centipede, millipede or beetle!

Tiger swallotail butterfly

2. Watch for butterflies

Watch butterflies basking in the sun on gravel roads, atop a pile of dung or near a puddle. To get a closer look, approach from behind, don’t make sudden movements and avoid casting a shadow. Plant a butterfly garden and watch them come to you.

Child with insect net

3. Catch and release a dragonfly

Dragonflies perch near wetlands or meadows and need to warm up in the sun.

Photo: Brendon Purdy

Child sitting on the forest floor

4. Find a sit spot

Find a place to sit quietly and return to again and again, use all your senses and watch natural wonders reveal themselves.

Young person stading before a starry sky

5. Star gaze

Star gaze. Light pollution is a side effect of cities glowing at night. Find a dark sky spot, stay up and look up! Watch for bats, too. (Don’t want to blow bedtime? Watch clouds in daylight.)

Child's hand playing in the mud

6. Make a mud pie

Digging in dirt can be a natural antidepressant. Mycobacterium vaccae, a microbe found in mud and wet soils, influences neurotransmitters that improve mood, reduce anxiety and facilitate learning.

Mother and daughter walk in the woods

7. Take a walk in the woods

Go on a scavenger hunt or forage for wild berries. Shinrin yoku — Japanese for “forest bathing” — boosts immune function, reduces blood pressure and stress and improves mood. The scents of trees (breathing in phytoncides antimicrobial volatile organic compounds), the sounds of moving water and the feel of sunshine are calming.

8. Learn to read animal signs

Look for tracks, scratch marks and poop (a.k.a “scat”). Moose scat looks like chocolate almonds, elk scat resembles chocolate kisses and deer scat looks like chocolate-covered raisins.

Connecting youth with nature children doing school work outside

9. Start a nature journal

Draw or write your experiences.

Family by the lake at sunset

10. Join a family nature club

Or, launch your own!

Useful tools for outdoor exploration

01

Bug holder

E.g. mason jar with air holes in the lid

02

Butterfly net

03

Magnifying glass

04

Dip net and pail

To explore tide pools, streams and ponds

Why do we need Vitamin “N” (for “nature”)?

Let’s stop treating time outdoors like it’s dessert, something only to indulge in once in a while.

Studies show time enjoying the natural world (even a view of nature out a window or a picture) can:

  • Reduce obesity, stress and the incidence of clinical depression.
  • Decrease blood sugar.
  • Improve impulse control and boost immune function.
  • Improve cognitive function, self-discipline and resilience under stress.
  • Improve workplace performance and job satisfaction.
  • Improve academic performance in children (boosts creativity, curiosity and concentration).
  • Moderate the effect of stressful events in children.
  • Make people more generous.
  • Build a strong sense of community, mutual trust and a willingness to help others.
  • Lower rates of aggression, including violent and property crimes.
  • Combat loneliness.
DSF connecting youth with nature resources image showing two children dressed as superheroes

Take the Suzuki Superhero Challenge

Whether you’re a teacher, parent or caregiver, you can encourage kids to spend time outside and teach them about environmental responsibility at the same time.

Start our four-week program that gets kids, families and classrooms of students to learn about environmental issues and make a superhero difference! Simply download our four, fun outdoor activities complete with step-by-step instructions.

Get outside and save the world!