From the moment he was born, our son Carson has been witness to the amazing world of nature. From bird banding, to hiking in West Virginia, to crawling into an abandoned wolf’s den in Yellowstone, and now, helping me with my nature and photography programs, Carson has had lots of fun. Sure, he likes the same things as his friends – computers, Nintendo, Pokémon – but his spectrum of interests and experiences in nature far exceeds all his friends combined.
Here is what I have learned as a father on how to get kids engaged in nature. These are my perspectives only and they are based on my experiences with Carson.
First, make it fun to be in nature. Many times Carson and I just go for a hike at a local nature park with nothing more than a stick and our imagination. If he doesn’t want to photograph, we don’t. Fun is a key component.
Make the time in nature interactive. Whether it’s exploring a beaver pond or searching for butterflies, make it so the child is doing something with you.
Provide feedback to the child. While we are out in the field, I’ll talk to Carson about what we are seeing and better yet, I’ll ask him what he’s experiencing. Make it conversational, not instructional. And be sure to respect their input.
Let them role play. Carson used to dress up as me, as a nature photographer. He had his own photographer’s vest, camera bag (a brightly colored carrying bag with bird pictures), boots, etc. Sometimes, we would play like we were park rangers on patrol, using Walkie-talkies to communicate with each other even though he was only about ten yards from me. Put some imagination into the effort.
Allow self-discovery. Let them explore nature on their own terms. I simply love to sit and watch Carson go out ahead of me and just be a little boy, getting dirty and muddy, and having a blast out there. He’s learning nature on his own terms and he’s using his imagination and creativity to savor and absorb the moment.
Embrace the technology that kids are so good at using these days. Carson loves to use GPS units,
Walkie-talkies, and the gadgets that the local nature park manager lets him use when we are there photographing or exploring.
Be involved! My mother could only encourage my interest in nature; she couldn’t participate because of her age. I decided it wasn’t enough to just encourage my son to be interested in nature. Instead, I knew I had to participate with him and with my love for nature, it wasn’t a challenge to do so. Remain a role model for you child.
Mesh their interest in nature into other aspects of their lives. Not only does Carson love to explore and photograph nature, he now writes about it in his journal and his school helps him include nature in his homework assignments, etc. Make nature an everyday part of the child’s life and make sure the lessons learned from nature are applied to all aspects of their lives.
Be sure to read My Child in the Woods – Part V – A Son’s Suggestion – to see what Carson has to offer.