Nature Education You Can Do (with your kids) at Home
“While we are born with curiosity and wonder and our early years full of the adventure they bring, I know such inherent joys are often lost. I also know that, being deep within us, their latent glow can be fanned to flame again by awareness and an open mind.” (Sigurd Olson, Reflections from the North Country, 1976)
As the naturalist at Forest Springs, I have lots of opportunities to work with families and kids of a variety of ages and interests. Some of the best moments in my work are when young children get excited about the creatures or plants in God’s creation; catching a frog, chasing a butterfly, chewing on a wintergreen leaf or picking wild blueberries in the bog.
It’s great when parents see the value of learning about God’s creation with their kids when they come to Forest Springs, but the joy of discovering things in nature doesn’t have to end here; you can do some of this stuff closer to home. As noted in the Sigurd Olson quote above, young children often have a strong sense of wonder regarding nature, then they start losing that as they reach middle-school age and get wrapped up in school activities, sports, video games, Facebook and hanging out with friends.
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Richard Louv, 2005) is an interesting treatise about the lack of time that children spend outside in unstructured play and exploration. Way too many kids today live on tight schedules; school, homework, team sports, music lessons… Good stuff, but where is the time and freedom to just play and explore outdoors?
Louv’s book doesn’t have all the answers to “nature-deficit disorder”, but he does a good job of discussing the benefits of getting kids outside and exploring nature. He writes at length about the emotional and intellectual benefits, but he misses one of the biggest potential benefits – exploring the created world can lead a child to see the wonder and glory of God the Creator!
As Tammy and I raised three sons at Forest Springs and small-town Rib Lake, we let them climb trees, build forts in the woods, canoe the Flambeau River and climb rocks at Devils Lake State Park. Maybe we were letting them live a little dangerously, but hey – they survived and are better off for having those experiences.
So what can you do to “fan the flames” of curiosity and wonder regarding God’s creation in your corner of the world? Here are some ideas to try at home or on vacation:
- Catch (and release) frogs
- Chase butterflies
- Find a monarch chrysalis, keep it and observe it as changes into a butterfly
- Go fishing
- Climb a tree
- Plant some trees
- Pick dandelions (or other common wildflowers) and give them to mom
- Go camping (and sleep in a tent)
- Cook a meal over a fire
- Learn a few easy-to-identify wild edible plants and try them out
- Take short family hikes in beautiful places
- Learn to use a compass and topo map
- Try geocaching (combines GPS gadgetry and nature exploration)
- Build a wildlife-watching blind
- Feed birds and buy a good field guide to help you identify and learn about them
- Explore a park in your area
- Go on a canoe trip
- Rent a cabin and hike in the Porcupine Mountains in Upper Michigan (easy way to backpack)
- Walk a trail in the woods at night (flashlights turned off)
- Watch a lunar eclipse
Feeling inadequate? Like you don’t have the knowledge or skills to lead your family in exploring nature? My thought – Just give it a shot! It’s worth it, even if you can’t answer all the kids’ questions. To paraphrase Psalm 19:1, “The heavens (and the rest of God’s created works) declare the glory of God – to those who make the effort to see it.”
You can learn more about Forest Springs' Outdoor Education Programs here.