The importance of teaching our children to love nature cannot be underestimated. It is our health, our happiness, and our future. ~ Ashley, of Look for Little Helpers
Parenting is not an easy task. Aside from runny noses, misplaced teddies, and sibling squabbles we also have to help our children learn how to be citizens of world – how to care for themselves, those around them, and the world itself.
In this shared nature connection story, Ashley does a wonderful job of explaining how her entire parenting philosophy is intertwined with kindness and mindfulness in nature.
It is my hope you enjoy and appreciate Ashley’s words as much as I did.
Making Nature Connections Through Kindness, Gratitude, and Mindfulness in Nature
My name is Ashley, and I write over at the blog Look for Little Helpers about teaching our children to be kind and gracious, to serve others, to know and love all kinds of people, and to feel the joy born of making a difference in the lives of others.
I’m a Stay-at-Home Mom to two extremely busy little boys (ages 5 and 2) who absolutely love nature, regardless of the weather. When Jenn asked for a guest post about our family’s connection to nature, I knew I’d have so much to write. Despite those days where we feel like sitting on the couch and watching TV, we do find ways to make the outdoors a priority, and I’d love to share those with you.
A Little History
If we travel back for a moment to my husband’s childhood, we would see a family of landowners who truly valued hard work and fun in the great outdoors. We’d see summers filled with tractor rides, fishing ponds, farming equipment, the harvesting of pecans from rows of pecan trees lining the drive, and acres of grassland and hills to roam for hours on end. Most of my husband’s happiest memories are those with family on property they owned, worked and played on.
I, on the other hand, was a city girl from the mountains who had never set foot on a tractor or 4-wheeler. My sister and I grew up skiing, water skiing, hiking, visiting national parks, camping, rollerblading, bike-riding, and swimming every second we could.
My husband and I had upbringings that seemed worlds apart. But, looking back on it, despite these superficial differences, the deep underlying values we were taught by our parents were fundamentally the same: to love the outdoors, spend as much time as possible year-round in nature, and to appreciate the beauty, majesty, and captivating pull of the world around us. And, this has always been one of the most important values we hope to pass on to our children.
Our efforts at passing on this love of nature to our boys are 4-fold. We instill a passion for our natural world through:
- Everyday Outdoor Routines
- Owning/Creating a Space Where the Focus is Nature
- Exploring our World
- Serving and Caring for Our Environment
Everyday outdoor routines
I’ve found that the number one way to instill a love of the outdoors and the value of being a part of nature is to make it a part of our routine. Because my boys and our puppy are so active, for their sanity (and mine) we have to do something outdoors every day, rain or shine. We participate in several regular activities to help us stay routinely connected to our natural world.
First, one of our very favorite activities is called “Mindful Walking”. Instead of simply putting the dog on the leash and heading out the door, we stop and enjoy the world around us. Sometimes we have a specific focus (e.g., listening for sounds in nature, collecting as many fallen leaves in as many colors as possible, finding every puddle and seeing how high we can jump in each one, etc.), and other days we simply stop every 5 or so minutes to take it ALL in (e.g., what do we see, hear, smell, feel?). Either way, it is important to pause and truly appreciate and NOTICE everything around us in nature.
Second, we do a “Nature Scavenger Hunt”quite often. I print out a list of items to cross off as we go for our walk. I recently did this with my kids and three of their sweet friends. The kids were excited to find natural beauty in our environment that we often take for granted (e.g., mushrooms growing in the grass, pinecones under the trees, birds tweeting in the limbs above us, etc.). They stopped to lay in the grass and soak up the sunshine. They didn’t complain or whine, they simply existed. It was beautiful! I have created a Nature Scavenger Hunt just for you. Head over to the Look for Little Helpers blog to get your copy to try with your kids.
Third, my kids are part of our gardening routine. They help plant our tomatoes, lavender, herbs, etc. They help water the plants and trim limbs, roses, and trees in the yard. They have their own gardening tools, gardening gloves, wheelbarrows, and shovels. They harvest our blueberries, tomatoes, and cherries from our cherry tree when they are ripe. And the best part is, they look forward to helping with this! My five-year-old asks regularly, “What jobs do we have to do in the yard today?”
Last, I am a runner, and my kids have traveled our entire community in the jogging stroller. I often run to the store rather than driving, run along our river paths, and point out the beauty of the world around us as we go. I hope to not only teach them the importance of exercise but to show them that traveling places outside, by foot or bike, can be thrilling and rejuvenating.
Owning and creating a space where the focus is nature
One of my husband’s lifetime goals is to own land. As previously mentioned, his father and uncles all owned properties where he roamed free as a child; therefore, he has always wanted this for his kids. He has worked SO hard, and now we are finally at a point where we are able to make that dream come true. This land has a view of the river, room for an orchard and vineyard to plant and care for, acres of property to hike, explore, and groom into what we want, wildlife to view in nature, and, most importantly, this land is a place my children will be able to spend as much time outside in the wilderness as they want. It will be a retreat, but also a lesson in hard work and its payoff.
It is important to note that you don’t have to own land or a huge property to create a space with a nature focus. We’ve lived in houses and rental spaces of all different sizes, but in each, we’ve still created an environment that connects us with our natural world. One way to do this is to create a small garden space, even if all you have is a tiny spot to place a few pots of herbs (indoors or out). Harvesting some of your own food is a great way to connect with the natural world, no matter how small. Another way would be to create a small space in your yard for outdoor crafts, a bird feeder, or simply a space to sit and observe the birds and plants around you.
Exploring our world
Another very important way we instill a love of nature in our children is by exploring and appreciating the beautiful world around us.
We live in the Pacific Northwest, and we absolutely love the beauty and greenness of this area. At least one weekend a month we take an impromptu day trip somewhere nearby to explore the beauty of the land around us. We go to lakes, hike to waterfalls, travel to the high desert, find snow to play in and sled on, and drive to the coast to spend time running along the beaches. Each of these experiences brings with it reminders to appreciate the beautiful state we live in as well as to make new and exciting discoveries. And, seeing this all through my children’s new and inexperienced eyes makes it all the more wonderful.
Nearly every vacation we take is at least partially focused on exploring the beautiful surroundings. I just returned from a trip where my 5-year-old went skiing for the first time and fell in love with the snowy mountains I grew up on. We also traveled to southern Utah and completed a 3-mile round trip hike to a place called the “Vortex”. We were surrounded by sand, lava rock, red sandstone, cacti, amazing rock formations, a volcano, and dinosaur footprints preserved in the rocks around us. We were lucky enough to be guided by a family friend who just happens to be a geologist. Can you imagine any better way to explore the world than with someone whose passion and knowledge base he can pass on to you? It was an indescribably wonderful learning experience for both my children and me.
Serving and caring for our environment
Last, but not least, is my favorite way to teach my children: by showing them how to love, serve, and care for the world they live in. To make it better than it was before. To keep it safe for their children. The focus of my blog in a single word is kindness. [clickToTweet tweet=”‘And kindness to nature is equally as important as kindness to people’ ~@look4littlehelp ” quote=”‘And kindness to nature is equally as important as kindness to people'” theme=”style1″].
My kids and I recently completed a service project where we hauled leaves and worked in the garden that provides food to the local food pantry. The amazing Grass Roots Garden not only grows fresh nutritious food for distribution through Food for Lane County but also provides “opportunities for youth and adults to grow, learn and contribute to their community.” My children loved every second they spend shoveling, pushing, and dumping wheelbarrows full of leaves. They learned about the needs of others in our community and where the food goes when it is harvested.
In December, my family completed a 31-Day Kindness Challenge along with my social media community. One of the days of kindness was focused on “doing something kind for the environment.” My heart filled with joy as people told me about planting trees, picking up garbage in their neighborhoods and parks, and talking to their children about the importance of minimizing waste and recycling as part of this challenge.
I also have several free printable activities for kids on my website that focus specifically on nature. I write a lot about how to teach our children to be grateful and have created simple gratitude activities to help with this. My printable Gratitude Journal and Gratitude Scavenger Hunt focus both on internal and external sources of gratitude, one very important source being nature. I recently asked my 5-year-old, “What in nature are you most grateful for?” His response: “Strawberry bushes, because I love eating fruit so much.”
Let’s work together to teach our children to be kind to their world! Even little hands can make a huge difference.
Thank you so much to Jenn for the opportunity to write about such an important topic. You can find me on:
Enjoy nature with your little helpers!
What should you read or do next?
- Read more of the Connecting with Nature Shared Stories
- Get tips on how to encourage a love of gardening with preschoolers
- Download more printable nature scavenger hunts and outdoor nature games