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Raising Nature Lovers & Little Scientists

by Karen Ung
How to nurture your child’s love of nature and science. 

When we received our eldest daughter’s first report card, it was no surprise that her highest marks were in Science. With Science geek parents, it can’t be helped! When the kids ask us questions about the world around them, we encourage them to make a guess (form a hypothesis), and then help them look for clues or do some research to see if they were right. By fuelling our children’s curiosity, we aim to foster a love of lifelong learning. 

Learning about nature is most fun when you let your children take the lead.  Be a scientist, observe what your kids are interested in, then provide some tools to help them discover more facts about their favorite things. Fun things to try include:

  • Birding – With apps like Merlin Bird ID, birding is fun for the younger crowd too! Identify birds by size, colour, and location, then have fun “talking” to them by playing bird calls. Read more about birding with Merlin Bird ID here: www.playoutsideguide.com/2014/08/birding-with-kids-and-merlin-bird-id-app.html.  If you are really keen, contact local birding clubs/associations to find out when birds will be tagged in a nearby park, and ask if you can watch. My girls had the rare opportunity to release some tagged birds last summer!
Releasing a tagged bird
  • Bug collecting Purchase a bug house and magnifying glass from the dollar store or make your own bug house (just be sure to poke some air holes!). Teach gentle handling of the insects and release them after looking at them. Plan ahead and take some books out from the library on creepy crawly critters and insect life cycles. Seeing bugs up close helped my youngest be less afraid of them. “They don’t have big teeth to bite me!” Caution: Avoid stinging bugs like wasps and bees, and hairy spiders as some spiders are poisonous.

  • Learning about edible plants and berries –  For my girls, the highlight of most hikes is finding a berry patch. We like blackberries, saskatoons, huckleberries, raspberries and wild strawberries. Caution: Teach your kids to always ask an adult before eating wild plants. Since some mushrooms are deadly, our rule is no picking or eating mushrooms.

Enjoying some freshly picked wild raspberries
  • Geocaching – Right now, it’s all about the treasure hunt, but my 5 year old is starting to pay more attention to directions and is getting a better sense of distance. She can read numbers and understand that we’re getting closer or further away by the distance indicator on the app. Did you know you can geocache with your smartphone and a free app? The only other items you need are a pen to record your find in the log book and treasures for trading. Learn more here: www.playoutsideguide.com/2014/11/geocaching-101-how-to-geocache-with.html
A cool geocache – treasure inside!
  • Meteorology – There are books at the library suitable for preschoolers (and up) that show what kinds of clouds are associated with what kind of weather. Identify cloud types, make your weather prediction, and see if it comes true. Clouds by Anne Rockwell is an excellent book for 3-6 year olds.

Clouds by Anne Rockwell
  • Rock collecting – Challenge the kids to find rocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors. My girls enjoy finding round rocks and painting them (acrylic paints adhere well and have a nice finish). As the kids get older, try to identify what kinds of rocks you found and how they formed.

Ladybug rock
A nest makes a good scavenger hunt item.

What are some of your children’s favorite ways to learn in nature?

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Play Outside Gal April 29, 2015 - 3:19 PM

I love it, Laura! Nurturing inquisitiveness and creativity is so important!

laura grace weldon April 8, 2015 - 11:06 PM

Raising nature lovers has so much to do with saying YES when they want to explore, experiment, and enthuse!

Here's how it works in our family. http://lauragraceweldon.com/2013/06/19/getting-science-on-everything/

Play Outside Gal March 4, 2015 - 6:21 AM

Thanks Erin! Hope your kids enjoy these activities too! : )

Erin @ Nourishing My Scholar February 26, 2015 - 8:54 PM

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!!!

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