Children are naturally curious and love to explore the world around them. Many people in the field of child development refer to young children, especially toddlers, as “little scientists.” The preschool years are the perfect age to begin instilling a love of nature in your child, and this has the added benefit of being a lot of fun for the whole family. Whether raining or sunny, any day can provide an opportunity for exploring nature with a preschooler. Backyards, parks, and sidewalks are all perfectly suitable for helping your child learn to love the outdoors.
Young children tend to love all types of animals. While the zoo and wild animal parks or farms are always fun trips, preschool-aged children are also interested in animals that we completely overlook. Squirrels, chipmunks, snails, earthworms, slugs, spiders, and ladybugs are all commonly found on lawns, sidewalks, parks, or greenbelts, and are just as charming and interactive to young children as ponies, zebras, and other animals you may pay to see.
When taking children for walks and your neighborhood, walk at their pace, and don’t hurry them along, but instead try to see the world through their eyes. They will probably reach down and pick up snails, point to spider webs, and direct your attention to all sorts of other creatures that you might not normally notice. While you don’t have to let your child touch everything he or she wants to, you can encourage a love of nature by looking with them. Asking open-ended questions like, “Where do you think that spider is going” will help build your child’s critical thinking skills.
Plants, while not as immediately as exciting as animals, can also be a wonder for young children. Taking your walks with a magnifying glass is one way to bring out the magic of plants. You can point out the tiny hairs on leaves, bumps on lemon or orange skin, the shape of blades of grass, and even different colors in dirt or sand. Magnifying glasses are cheap and sturdy, and many are made especially for young children and are perfect for exploring nature with a preschooler.
Bug catchers can be fun temporary ways to help in exploring nature with a preschooler. Some are made with magnifying lenses built into the top for better viewing. While it’s better to teach children to leave animals in their natural habitats, terrariums and bug catchers can provide a way to examine nature before the animals go again. These are things you can bring along to a park, check out the bugs, and then bring home the empty terrariums, teaching your child respect for habitats along with a love of nature. This kind of care also build empathy in children, which is important for many social skills.
There are many science and observation games that can be played with preschoolers in a nature setting. You can ask a child to find as many green things or different shades of brown., for instance. Showing children how to stay perfectly still for as long as possible gives them the opportunity to observe more plants and animals that might be scared away by movement, so make a game out of it. See who can stay still the longest or how many birds you can count while not moving. What a great way to practice some self-control, as well!
It is important to remember a few things while exploring nature with a preschooler. First of all, don’t be afraid of rain. Rain may even be a benefit, as animals like earthworms only come out in the rain. It has been said that childhood ends once a puddle stops being an opportunity and starts being an obstacle. Your child won’t consider the inclement weather to be a disadvantage unless you do, so put on the boots and raincoats and go for a nature walk! This kind of active engagement in learning about the world around us is priceless, and one that we do at school when ever we have the chance. In addition, don’t worry about getting dirty. Dirt is unlikely to hurt your child and children derive a great deal of sensory pleasure from digging in the mud and dirt. This kind of focused exploration helps to build many learning skills needed for future school success. Also, some studies have found that children who are given the opportunity to play in dirt and mud tends to have less allergies and asthma when they grow older. While it’s fine to wash up when you get home and discourage putting hands in mouths during nature walk, helping your child develop a love of nature might require getting a little dirty.