• Gardening together outdoors teaches your kids about plants’ needs for water and sunlight.
• Nature walks allow your children to observe and collect items from their environment.
• Use online resources such as Google Earth to virtually explore new places and learn about local wildlife.
• Participate in citizen science projects to contribute meaningful data and learn more about nature together.
With the world in a state of flux and many places still closed or restricted due to the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to find ways to connect your child with nature. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help your child explore nature while staying safe at home. Here are some tips for bringing the outdoors in and helping your kids make meaningful connections with nature.
1. Gardening Together
Gardening is a great way to engage kids with nature in their backyard. Start by discussing what plants they would like to grow together. You can look through seed catalogs or websites, learn about companion planting, and decide on a layout for the garden beds. Let your children help select plants, potting soil, containers, and other gardening supplies. Discuss how plants need water and sunlight to grow as you work together to create the garden.
You can also do this all year long. If you worry about the cold weather ruining your child’s learning in a wilting garden, you can build a deep winter greenhouse where your child can help you care for various plants. This is a great way to let your child experiment with growing techniques and learn about plants from seed to harvest, even during winter.
2. Going on Nature Walks
Nature walks are an excellent way for kids to get outside and explore their environment without worrying about large crowds or contact with other people. Bring binoculars so they can observe birds and other wildlife from a safe distance. Take time during these walks to collect leaves, rocks, shells—anything that catches their eye—and discuss why these items were interesting enough for them to want to bring home. You can even do art projects out of these items later!
3. Learning About Local Wildlife
Take advantage of online resources such as environmental protection agencies or university websites that offer information about local wildlife in your area. Kids can learn all sorts of exciting things, such as which animals migrate through the area, which amphibians breed in nearby ponds or lakes, and where different species live throughout the year. You can also buy books about local wildlife or use learning apps that allow users to upload photos of plants and animals for identification.
4. Exploring New Places
The pandemic has made traveling more challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore new places. Using various online resources, your child can virtually “travel” to new places and learn about the flora and fauna of another region. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the natural world and appreciate its diversity. Here are some great online resources for virtual exploration:
a. Google Earth
You can use the 3-D imagery and street view on Google Earth to explore anywhere. This is a great way to get an up-close view of a particular area or region and look for signs of wildlife.
b. National Geographic’s Explore the Wild
This website has great resources for exploring different ecosystems and learning about local wildlife. There are videos, maps, and articles about everything from deserts to rainforests.
iNaturalist is a great way for kids to learn about plants and animals in their own backyard or anywhere else in the world. They can record their observations and share them with others online, creating a global community of nature lovers.
d. The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy has a wealth of information about nature and its importance. They also have many activities and resources for learning more about the environment and helping preserve it.
5. Participating in Citizen Science Projects
Citizen science projects are a fantastic way for kids to learn about nature and contribute meaningful scientific data. These projects involve collecting data on various topics, such as counting birds in your area or tracking the progress of a particular species. Plenty of projects are available, and many can be done from home.
Helping your child connect with nature is integral to their development and well-being—especially when you have limited access to outdoor spaces due to social distancing measures or other restrictions. By taking advantage of simple activities such as gardening, nature walks, exploring new places virtually, and participating in citizen science projects, you can provide your child with meaningful opportunities to engage with the natural world.