How to Get Kids to Value Nature as Much as Their iPads

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“Kids don’t get outside enough.”  “Kids spend too much time on screens.” We’ve read so many articles and internet discussions on this topic but how can we get our kids to value nature as much as their iPads? 

There really is just one, simple thing you need to do. It works. 

Are you ready for it? 

less screen time

Just show up in the natural environment with your kids. That’s all you have to do. And, you don’t have to plan a lesson, print a “nature scavenger hunt worksheet” off of Pinterest* or structure how the time is spent. You simply have to show up. Children will take the next step: They’ll find an interesting beetle, pick up a leaf or a stone, notice wildlife,  splash into the creek, fearfully ask a question about a spider. Be a resource to them. Answer questions, look things up when you get home, buy them field guides and pocket microscopes. Nature, as it turns out, is a natural springboard for learning. 

Children’s active engagement in learning often looks like playing, investigating, and exploring. We are so tempted to structure that or to end that time so they can learn in a more formal, academic way with books and worksheets. Our challenge is this: Don’t.

This is the premise for the nature group that I started two years ago, with my youngest child (then, age 5) in mind. He would not/could not sit in a class, even if it was about his favorite topic: reptiles. But outside, examining a water bug in the creek, he lit up with excitement, asked questions and wanted to look up more about them on the computer when we got home.

Our study of nature in this manner has grown and deepened.  We’ve learned volumes about frogs, fish, butterflies, the watershed system and the weather. We’ve learned about hiking and water safety, types of rocks, wildflowers, mosquitos and deer. 

I don’t require my kids to write all these things down in a nature journal, although I wouldn’t stop them if they expressed a desire to do so. There are no assignments. These are all things that they are interested in learning after being outside, exploring. 

Let nature be your teacher. William Wordsworth

I’m learning, too. I’ve signed up for classes to learn more about plants and animals, I read more about the things I discover in these nature explorations with my kids, and I spend more time out in the woods, noticing things, wondering, looking things up when I get back to my laptop.  

This interest in the natural environment started when I was a little girl, splashing in creeks and tromping through fields and forests with my grandparents on their land in rural Pennsylvania. 

I didn’t travel far or explore natural wonders. I simply followed my grandparents around as they tended to their flower and vegetable gardens, fished in the creek and walked in the woods. 

I live in suburban Virginia now, with a little patch of woods behind my house. It doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t have to. To my kids, it is a paradise:  A place to build forts and tipis, a trail to clear, a battleground for sticks wielded like light sabers. A place to lay pet fish to rest, a place to pretend and to be adventurous. 

I value that little plot of woods more than anything else in my neighborhood and I value our trips to explore creeks and rivers with our friends. As I watch them run down a trail, spot wildlife and answer their questions, I think of this…

Kids who spend time in the natural environment grow up to be people who protect and value it. 

nature kids

That’s a childhood experience I want my kids to have. They love their iPads, oh, believe me, they do, but they value the time they spend in the woods behind our house and the hikes we take. They ask if they can have more screen time and they ask if they can go play in the woods and when our next trip to the creek will be. 

Do I still worry that they are spending too much time with a glowing rectangle of some sort in front of their precious little faces? Yes, of course. But there is balance here. And I hope they will carry that with them for a lifetime. 


*No offense to my dear blogging friends who create beautiful printable nature scavenger hunts and post them on Pinterest. They are lovely but they are just not for me. 

nature kids