It is essential to instill in our children a love and respect for the outdoors. It’s something we can’t start too soon.
Recent research shows that if you give children (ages five to ten) an immersive experience in nature, it will lead to a lifelong love of the environment and a sense of stewardship of the land. You’re also likely to produce more creative thinkers!
Algonquin Provincial Park biologist Alison Lake offers these tips on How to raise environmentally conscious children in an increasingly urban and regulated world:
Spend some unstructured time every day with your children by taking them for a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood.
Not only is walking good exercise for the whole family, it’s also free, carbon-neutral, and a valuable lifelong habit. It’s also a great way for your children to connect with you and the natural world around them.
Even in the most urban environments, there is plenty of nature to see and hear!
Show your budding environmentalists how to track changes in nature, season after season.
In spring, for example, have them look for the first robin. Or the first worm on the sidewalk. Or the first bud of the apple tree you usually pass by. In winter, tell them to watch when the first snow falls, the first animal tracks appear in the snow, and the temperature drops below zero on the first night.
Encourage them to keep a journal or calendar so they can compare what happens in the seasons, year after year.
Improve your level by taking them to your nearest park
Start with day hikes and work your way up to weekend camping as they get older. Teach your children how to calmly observe what happens in the park and how to “fit in, not shape” their environment by leaving the flowers, animals, grass (and even driftwood) exactly as you found them. (Driftwood provides important habitat for species such as eastern hognose snakes and American toads.)
Encourage them to take photos of animals, birds, reptiles, and plants that capture their interest, and discuss what the animal was doing when they photographed it and why.
Listen to your children
Find out what interests them and encourage and support them. You never know, you might have a future botanist, ornithologist or even herpetologist on your hands!
At the very least, you will give your child the precious gift of a lifelong love of nature.
Check out Ontario Parks Discovery programs with park naturalists and be sure to take your kids to events that encourage their interests. You may develop a new interest or skill yourself.