1. Get Techies to Explore Nature
Going “eco” doesn’t mean peeling your kid away from her favorite devices forever. While you may want to shut down the video games, you can use technology to enhance a day in the park and entice your budding engineer. Have her help plot a path through the woods using a map app. Then teach her to use your phone’s compass to find her way around. Demonstrate how to use a camera to create video logs and photos to document her day.
Step It Up: Tech-savvy families might like geocaching. It’s a twenty-first century version of hide-and-seek, where participants use GPS devices to locate caches—treasures hidden by other game enthusiasts who post clues on the Web site geocaching.com. Who knows? There could be a cache near you!
2. Inspire Artists with Natural Beauty
Got a kid who’d rather dip his fingers in paint than dirt? Take a trek through the woods and focus on things artistic, such as straight-from-nature brushes. Layers of evergreen needles tied to a twig will work, but you also can search for feathers, pinecones, and more to use as painting tools. Point out interesting sights and ask questions to pique curiosity: What kind of bird did this feather come from? How did these shells get here?
Boot It Up: Let your child turn the woods into a canvas! He can arrange sticks and leaves to create pictures on the ground, pile rocks to make simple sculptures, or scrape stones on bark to draw etchings that let the world know he’s been there.
3. Challenge Athletes with an Obstacle Course
Don’t be surprised if your athletic and competitive kid doesn’t want to sacrifice a practice day for a nature walk. To hook these kids, plan an obstacle course at a local park or nature preserve. Invite your child to climb a tree, jump a stream, scale a boulder, and balance on fallen trunks. Kids can time themselves as they build strength and agility that transfer nicely to the playing field. Stroll the grounds or lie on the grass so kids can take in the flora and fauna (without even knowing they’re communing with nature).
Crank It Up: Take time to teach your child about outdoor safety. Remind her to stay on marked paths when required and be aware of her surroundings. Teach your child to spot poison ivy and other dangerous plants or insects in your region, and always dress appropriately to prevent scrapes, injuries, or bites.
4. Let Science Lovers Go Wild!
If your child is passionate about paleontology, robotics, or other scientific topics, you can channel his inquisitive spirit into an interest in nature and biodiversity. These kids will want to investigate everything more closely, so keep basic gear on hand, including binoculars, a magnifying glass, a pocket knife, and collecting jars. Grab a field guide that covers local animal and plant species. On your walks, gather samples to identify later or start a field journal where you and your child can record your findings.
Mix It Up: Turn a walk into a scavenger hunt. Create a list of things to find based on size or color: something red, something smaller than a penny… Or use your field guide to help you identify specific things: deer tracks, maple leaves, and conch shells, and more, depending where you live. Invite friends to join you and reward the team with a crown of leaves.
5. Tune Musical Kids into the Sounds of Nature
For children who love music, discovering the rhythms and melodies alive in nature can be enthralling. Encourage kids to listen and create a sound map of the chirps and whirrs around them. Have them mark an “X” on a blank sheet of paper indicating their location. Then have them identify each sound and location and mark them with a symbol on the page: a beak for the bird chirping to the left, a wavy line for the breeze blowing to the south. Return to the same location another day, at a different time, or in another season. Map the sounds again and compare.
Amp It Up: Capture the sounds of nature on a voice notes app or other recording device. Identify birds, frogs, and other species from online recordings at Audubon.org or other wildlife society sites. Play the recordings over and over to see if your child can imitate them later. Ask: “How could sounds of nature be altered or combined to create a form of music?”