9 Tips for connecting with nature
By taking just a few small steps, you can start to grow a lifelong love and respect of nature in your children.
1. Make it convenient, keep it simple & just TUNE IN
Start by exploring your back garden, housing estate green space, planted areas, the street near your house or apartment complex grounds. Put yourself into a winnable position right from the start by biting off a small commitment. If you are beginning, set yourself the target of 15 minutes outdoors each day as a family and build from there.
The quickest way to develop a connection with Nature is to TUNE IN. After just a couple of minutes, we can begin to reap the health benefits nature has to offer.
We TUNE IN by using our senses to immerse ourselves in the Nature around us. This doesn't have to be a three hour forest walk or a meditation session in the park. Just finding a quiet corner of a garden or nearby green space will work too. So, as you ramble together in the green space available, take a few moments to invite your kids to explore with their senses.
2. Let children get their hands dirty
Let your kids get up close and personal with nature while they play - and that means getting DIRTY! Feeling the damp soil in their hands is like hitting the fast forward button in rewilding your children.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many healthy bacteria and micro organisms in the soil which help boost their immune system.
Change them into their wet gear, overalls or mucking around duds and let them really get hands on when out in nature. And remember to prepare yourself too so that you can teach your child through modelling how to do things they may not have done before. Making forts, disappearing under sprawling shrubs, splash bombing in puddles, rolling down hills, peeping under rotting logs or mossy stones and tree climbing are on many kids' hit list if they get the opportunity. So set yourself up for this before you leave home, or bring a change of clothes, so you can all get stuck in with nature when outdoors.
3. Interact with wildlife around your garden, housing estate green, window sill or balcony
Helping your children interact with nature and wildlife can be such a rewarding experience for the entire family. Here, I have included some simple and low prep ideas from the Activity Finder to connect with nature and wildlife.
It is amazing how interested you can get in garden birds, or bugs around your plants, after taking time to look after them.
4. Use FUN and the Nature Days Activity Finder
Kids need fun and challenges appropriate for their age to really catch their attention. Use games to make being in nature fun and simple activities & tasks to peak their curiosity. The Activity Finder is a great resource for finding fun, low prep, activities to try during your short family outings. Family favourites like I-spy or Stick Jenga can be great fun, while getting you all absorbed in the simple pleasure of focusing on the nature in front of you.
5. Start a nature journal
A simpe notebook or unused school copy will work just fine as a nature journal. Your kids can decorate it with treasures found on their nature rambles. Record the date, season, time of day and location on the top of the page and then add in or sketch anything noteworthy. If you start a nature journal too, even better. Once your kids see this as important to you, they are more likely to see the value in it too and join in.
6. Link in with Nature projects around the country or in your area
Join in with initiatives to help regenerate our biodiversity and help our planet. Examples at the moment are:
Irish Wildlife Trust 30 Days Wild campaign - starting on 1 June 2021. (Follow on Facebook)
Keelings Great Rewilding Campaign
Glenisk Help Us Plant One Million Trees campaign
Follow your Tidy Towns Group and County Council on social media to be informed of times when they call out to the public to get involved with litter picks and other nature based local initiatives. This is a great way to connect your family with the good work that many people are doing on the ground for local communities around the country.
7. Bring nature indoors
Start your own windowsill herb box or look after some house plants as a way to bring nature into your home. You could also pick flowers or make a Nature Arrangement to place on your kitchen counter. The key is to begin to take notice of these as you walk past during the day and engage your kids with them by helping to take care of them too. This is a great way to show kids the cycle of life, seed to fork and how to respect nature by looking after your plants' needs.
8. Work up to a field trip!
This is especially useful if you do not have convenient access to a large green or wild space near where you live.
Plan a trip further afield- to a park, river, beach, an allotment or countryside area - so you can explore. If you can walk, cycle, or scoot there that's great but otherwise a short car journey should get you to somewhere interesting in your locality. You can pack a picnic, arm the kids with their nature journals or nature detective kits and whatever equipment they feel they will need to be a nature detective for the afternoon. Magnifying glass, tubs for collecting treasure, binoculars, paper and crayons for rubbings are all great. Of course, you don't really need any of these things but, from my own experience, kids love to haul a bag full of gadgets around with them. So just indulge the younger ones if a spatula or rolling pin becomes a must-have piece of kit for your trip (but maybe put a halt to it when they start to drag the ironing board towards the back door!)
Pond dipping in a nearby park, tree climbing expedition in a woodland or forest, wildlife spotting in a nature reserve, coast combing, visit a castle or old ruin, an open farm or open garden visit are just some ideas of field trips for kids young and old.
9. Use Media & Technology to help
Finally, I am not super tech savvy but I definitely see the value in using technology to my benefit in reconnecting childhood to nature. But for our own wellbeing, I feel it's more positive to limit it to a useful tool in our lives as opposed to letting it control our lives.
Use Tech resources to add to your family’s experience and bridge the knowledge gap so you can keep things interesting. Apps like All Trails (Walks & Hikes), PlantNet (identifying plants), Picture Insect (identify insects) or SkyView (Star Gazing) can all be great fun when out and about. Just try not to have phone in hand all the time.
Remember that your kids, especially as they get older, may know quite a lot of random nature facts already so always ask them to share what they know first. Give your kids a chance to be a leader in the group. Especially give older kids, who are tweens and teens, a chance to lead, take charge at times, and feel the challenge of taking on some responsibility.
When you come across something which you don't recognise, don't understand, or can't identify in nature, firstly ask your kids what they think. Decide on a theory for what it is together and then you can always use a tech app to see if anyone came close to the right answer. In this way, you engage them more deeply than just reading answers from the phone screen immediately.
We want our kids to think, use their own brain and powers of logic to consider the problem or question first before we use the convenience of tech to help us out. If you can peak their interest, you’re onto a winner and they will continue to develop their wonder about the world around them with an endless curiosity.
And for the days you don’t get outdoors, use the Indoor Activity Finder resources on this blog to connect your children with all manner of nature based media too.