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Connecting Kids to Nature

Dear Elizabeth,
I live in New York City with my 2-year-old son. I want to expose him to nature. How can I do this in the city?
Selwyn Gouveia
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Playing in natural areas enhances a child’s learning
  • Children tend to be happier & healthier when they play outdoors
  • Become a nature watcher with your child
  • Show your own delight & curiosity
Expert Advice
Richard Louv
Richard Louv
Author of "Last Child in the Woods"
To start with, let’s talk about how we define nature. Many people think of nature as wilderness, that you have to take kids to a national park--which would be great--but nearby nature can be a clump of trees at the end of the street, or even an alleyway with grass along the edge of the building. A sidewalk with grass in between can look very insignificant to an adult’s eyes, but to a child, that grass can be the whole universe, particularly when they’re very young.

Nature Deficit Disorder
I’m very careful in my book not to say that nature deficit disorder is some kind of known medical diagnosis. Maybe it should be someday, but it’s not now. What it is is a way to describe the disconnection between children and nature that is happening at an accelerating rate over the last two or three decades. It has real significance for the health of children and for the health of the earth itself.

Kids are Becoming More Disconnected from Nature
There are several reasons this disconnection is happening. Obviously, when you cut down the woods, it’s hard for a child to go out and play in the woods. If you manicure your backyard completely, it’s hard for a child to go out and dig that hole to china that, perhaps, we, as kids, tried to dig. But there are other reasons. Kids’ lives are so “scheduled” now. Many are involved in organized activities from dawn until dusk.

Benefits of Nature
The studies ongoing at the University of Illinois show that kids with the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, who get a little bit of nature, get much better -- even children as young as 5. Studies show tremendous stress reduction both for adults and children. By the way, getting outdoors is great not only for the kids, but also for the adults who take kids out to explore nature. In terms of creativity, children who play in a natural play area, compared to a flat playground, tend to invent their own games far more than kids on a flat playground. There are also studies that show that test scores go up in schools that have outdoor classrooms.
Child Care Provider Comments
Penny Salazar
Penny Salazar
Mother of two
The kids love to go to the creek near our house. There are a ton of frogs there. They try to find them by the sound of the croaking. There are also crawfish there as well. They get to climb down the hill to the creek. They overturn the rocks to look for crawfish. They try to catch them for hours on end. It is a real adventure for them.
Eve Del Real
Eve Del Real
Child Care Provider for 3 years
We do many nature-based activities. We take lot of nature walks. Right now, we’re studying live ladybugs. We’ll observe them and they will look at them and hold them. We talk about how important it is to be kind to the insects and how they are there for a reason. We then talk about its body and what ladybugs do. It teaches them about respecting the lifecycle of nature. At our center, we’re big on teaching the kids to respect the outdoors.
Cathy Agnew
Cathy Agnew
Cares for her grandchildren, mother of two
We have a greenbelt between houses in the neighborhood. My granddaughter and I go on walks there a lot. There are squirrels, crows, trees, bugs, flowers. She likes to take sticks and draw on the sidewalk. She also plays out in the back yard. Every time we take the lid off of the sandbox, there are always spiders and spider webs in it. She’s not squeamish about the bugs at all.

Bug Habitats and Bug Catchers Featured Activity:
Bug Habitats and Bug Catchers
Connecting Kids to Nature Featured Video:
Connecting Kids to Nature
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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