By Deirdre Wilson
Richard Louv’s 2005 landmark book Last Child in the Woods prompted widespread concern about the “nature deficit” afflicting kids today because of sedentary lifestyles, a reliance on TV and computers for entertainment, and worries about children’s personal safety when playing outdoors.
For environmentalists, the main concern about kids with no connection to nature is that they’ll grow up not caring about protecting and preserving the environment.
Unfortunately, simply relying on that well-worn command to “get outside and play!” won’t solve the problem. Today’s parents need to actively engage kids to help close the “nature deficit.”
In her book i love dirt! (Trumpeter, 2008; $12.95), nature expert Jennifer Ward offers 52 activities parents can use to help themselves and their young children commune with nature.
What to do during these beautiful soft days of spring marking the last weeks before summer's heat? Ward offers these ideas:
Go on a scavenger hunt for rocks.
Try to find rocks that are sharp, flat, bumpy, rough, smooth, shiny, dull, speckled, striped, multicolored or just one color. Compare the rocks you find and talk about their texture and appearance.
Build or create designs with rocks.
Line your rocks up into circles, squares or paths. Create buildings, a neighborhood, or even a whole town with your rocks. (You might even check out the contemporary classic children’s book Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney, for further inspiration.)
Head outside to watch the sunset and look for the very first visible star. Teach kids that while stars look tiny to us here on the ground, they’re actually huge (our sun, for example, is only an average-sized star; there are bigger and smaller stars, and there are stars nearer and farther away).
Look for different colored stars. Blue stars are considered the hottest in temperature, while red stars are the coolest.
Eventually, you can start to point out constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt, or look in the newspaper for alerts about planets or comets that may be visible in the night sky this time of year. Check KidsAstronomy.com for more ideas and a plan for a constellation hunt.
Have a backyard campout with your child.
Pitch a tent and spend time outside listening for the natural sounds of the night. Listen for frogs, crickets, an owl or a small animal in the bushes nearby. Talk about each sound you hear, including night breezes. Then, Ward suggests, let “Mother Nature sing you to sleep.”
If the outdoor life catches on with your kids, you may want to check out the NAPPA Award-winning Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids' Guide. It's a terrific resource on every outdoor skill you can think of and helps you get closer to nature (while surviving), whether you’re in the back yard or out in the wild.