4 Ways to Engage your Child with Nature

by added on 29 October 2019, Comments Off on 4 Ways to Engage your Child with Nature , posted in Blog
By Maggie Homer, Parent Educator


Have any of you heard of the 1,000-hour challenge? Neither had I.

Historically, I struggle with the transitions from summer to fall and fall to winter. The rain, the cold, and more than anything, the cabin fever of being indoors all day long with young children stresses me out. I can literally feel my anxiety revving up as the temperatures fall. But this year, I am determined for things to be different.

After doing some research, I stumbled upon the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, a British educator whose life’s work was devoted to improving the quality of children’s education. She believed that children should be outdoors for 1,000 hours annually (which breaks down to about 3 hours a day). Today, there is even 1,000-hour challenge groups to hold families accountable for getting outside no matter the weather.

I love stuff like this. I thrive when I have tangible goals. I love feeling like I truly accomplished something in a day. Now, it’s one thing to set a goal, and it’s another thing entirely to have the tools to achieve said goal.


So, here are 4 simple ways to engage your child with nature (and reach those 1,000 hours of outdoor time):


1.     Wander:

Set out into your yard or a local natural area with no goal except to wander around with your child. Leave your watch at home, it’s important to embrace the feeling of timelessness out in nature. Allow your child to get dirty, explore, touch, taste, smell, hear any and everything that nature has to offer. If you’re looking for sensory experiences, look no further than this! Nature is the best possible sensory experience for your child (and you!).

It can be fun to pack a nature kit to bring along. Contents can include (but are never limited to) magnifying glass, bug catcher, compass, binoculars, or whatever else your child decides they may need on their expedition.



2.     Sit Spot:

A sit spot is a place that your child can visit on a daily basis. It can be a spot at a local park, in your yard, or in your home looking out at nature. The important part is that it’s an easily accessible spot where your child can observe the happenings of the natural world around him.

Sit spots become a place of refuge for your child. It’s a spot to go to slip away from life’s noise. The value of revisiting a single spot daily is that your child becomes familiar with the cadences of nature in this area. The birds, squirrels, and bunnies become recognizable. They may name them and begin to want to care for and feed them. They begin to foster a relationship with the natural world surrounding their special spot and take ownership for their role in protecting the environment.

Children also get to see the seasonal changes that take place throughout the year from this spot. They’ll see the leaves change in color, fall to the ground, the dirt turns to mud, then to ice. This allows the child to enjoy and process the natural transitions throughout the year through a first-hand observational experience.


3.     Story of the Day

A wonderful time to do Story of the Day is sitting around the family dinner table. It’s a time to ask your child, “What happened out there today?” or “What did you discover today?”  The child gets the opportunity to revisit outdoor experiences and opens up the conversation for mentorship if they had questions about nature.

Other adaptations of Story of the Day can be journaling, poetry, art, or photography. All of these mediums allow the child to tell you about their outdoor experience. The more opportunities you create to share in the nature experience together, the more value it will have in your child’s life. When they see that nature is important to you, the chances are that it will become important to them.


4.     Nature Table

Define a table outdoors or inside that is your nature table. This is a place where your child can collect items from nature that are unique and special to them and bring back to save and share with the family. When a child places an item on the table, this is a great opportunity to start a conversation about what they have found. Asking questions like, “What color is it, what shape, where was it found?”

An exciting addition to the nature table is adding a bug terrarium.  Your child can create a habitat for the insects, watch the creatures for a while, and then release them back to nature. It contains the insects just long enough for the child to observe them closely, instead of having them constantly trying to get away.


What Will Nature Do for You?

It’s my third week of focusing on getting 3 hours of unstructured outdoor play a day, and I could not be happier with the effects it has had on myself and my children. The rain no longer gives my children pause at the door. They simply run outside. I am happier and more relaxed at home. I didn’t realize how much I missed being outside in the rain until I went outside in the rain.

These first-hand experiences outdoors in the fall weather have expanded my toddler’s vocabulary. He’s added new words to his vocabulary like raining, windy, spider web and chilly. Words he would not know unless he was offered these tangible encounters with our PNW fall.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the creator of Wilder Child, Nicolette Sowder:

“Encouraging a child to go outside in all weather builds resilience, but more importantly it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the ‘bad’ days in favor of a handful of ‘good’ ones – a life of endless expectations and conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine.”





“How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature” by Scott D. Sampson


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