10 Surprising Ways to Teach Kids to Love Nature


As the weather starts to improve, it’s the perfect time to get kids out and about and show them the joy of nature. It doesn’t have to be a structured thing—in fact, unstructured is almost always better when it comes to kids and nature.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, here’s a list of ideas I’ve collected over 30 years of having kids who all now absolutely adore nature:

  1. Plant treats to eat. Regular strawberries or alpine strawberries, for example, make an easy landscaping plant and delicious snacks. And they grow back every year. Blueberries make a nice landscape bush. Of course, there are fruit trees, too. The idea is to teach kids to snack from your yard.
  2. Let them plant vegetables and flowers in containers right by their favorite place to play. Plant carrots in a pot by the swing set or cherry tomatoes next to the slide. Or just grow some green beans by the back door. Never eaten a fresh raw green bean? You haven’t lived!
  3. Create places to snuggle outside. Sitting in a comfy chair snuggling with your kids is the best positive reinforcement you can give. An added bonus is when you spot a hummingbird, a butterfly, or a cute rabbit while you’re there.
  4. Make secret hideouts. When my oldest was young, she and her cousin had “the digging yard,” which was a patch of dirt under the branches of an ancient forsythia bush where they took digging trucks and basically just dug things. Endless hours of fun!
  5. Look for scat. We have a fox that loves to mark its territory by pooping right in the middle of the driveway. What kid doesn’t love to talk about poop? Every kid should know the difference between deer poop and rabbit poop and other kinds of poop. The wild animal poop list is endless…and endlessly fascinating.
  6. Don’t show fear. Find a worm? Ohh and ahh; don’t screech. Spiders? Cool! “Let’s look up what kind it is!” Kids walk in covered in mud? Don’t freak out. Laugh about it and make them do their own laundry. Clothes are totally replaceable. Kids and nature are not.
  7. Gather treasures. Sticks, flowers, stones, dead bugs, grass clippings, moss, feathers, weird unidentified objects—it’s all good! Encourage the kids to make a special box to keep them in.
  8. Look up bird sounds and birds to identify together. There’s one bird that always sounds like it’s singing “drink your teeeeeeaaaaa” all summer. And another that sounds like a wild monkey—that one is a pileated woodpecker, which is as big as a small monkey!
  9. Paint it, draw it, photograph it. Put an easel outside and let them get messy and create. Give the kids the camera and see the world through their eyes. Give them a sketchbook and some colored pencils, put on some music, and don’t criticize or overdirect. When it comes to creativity, there is no right or wrong or good or bad. That’s the way it is with nature, too.
  10. A blanket, some pillows, a picnic, and some tea. It’s the quintessential thing to do, but don’t skimp on comfort or the tea. If you have fresh mint or fresh lemon verbena, just pour some boiling water over it. Or make homemade lemonade. The idea is to get comfortable, relax, and enjoy spending time outside with your kids—no matter what their age! After all, nature is timeless and brings out the kid in all of us.

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14 Responses to 10 Surprising Ways to Teach Kids to Love Nature

  1. Yen March 24, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    I love this! My 2 year old and i just planted some strawbs and i can’t wait til he sees the results 🙂
    But the question is how do i get my hubby not to freak out when the little one is covered in mud or sand 🙁

  2. Alice Green March 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    Maria, your kids are the luckiest kids in the world!! I wish all Moms were like you…..

    On behalf of all kids everywhere – Thank You!

  3. maria (farm country kitchen) March 24, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Yen, tell your hubby that all that dirt is good for them! It makes them healthier for sure!

  4. Cherrie March 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    Thank you for making this information available to read. For us starting community gardens its a blessing. Love it live it! Cher

  5. Yen March 25, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    Thanks Maria

  6. Joey March 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    All of those ideas sound divine. I can’t wait to get started!

  7. JimM March 27, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    We are an older couple and our grandchildren live too far away. However, that doesn’t stop the neighborhood children from helping us harvest our strawberries. Nor does it stop any of our neighbors from helping us eat our apples and cherries. What a pleasure it is to share the bounty.

  8. Stephanie March 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    Brilliant post. I have to admit I am scared of frogs. The kids know it, but they find it hilarious!

  9. Jo Ellen Roe March 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    These are fabulous ideas — nothing hard about any of them.

  10. Tracey April 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Wonderful ideas! I’ve often found that, once a child gets a taste for gardening, they want to help out with the main family garden, as well. Gardening with kids has the added benefit of producing something tangible: being able to say, “we made this together” is pretty cool around the dinner table.

  11. Kimberly Cosco April 12, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    We built a 3’x3′ square little garden for each of our kids next to our big garden, and I let them each choose what they wanted to plant in their own gardens. When my son was 6 he planted poppies and basil and corn, and by the time he was 13 he was strictly a bruschetta kid -tomatoes, basil and parsley (he makes all our pesto too and freezes a bunch for over the winter!). My daughter’s garden was all about pretty flowers, with some carrots for good measure!
    My daughter would collect rocks and sticks and flowers pinecones and make stick people out of them. I would find these little stick people all over the property – literally a stick person, with stones for eyes, nose and ears, pinecone hands and feet, and flowers for hair and a big smile. Priceless!

  12. Tim French November 4, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    Bookmarked this site a while and decided to come back to it today. Went through the list, with a big smile on my face.
    Have a grand-daughter, just turned 4. Has been “nature walking” since 2. I take her on walks in my woods Mon. Tue and Wed after she gets up from her nap.

    At 4, she knows deer, coyote, night crawler, turkey and Canadian goose tracks.

    Knows deer, worm (castings), goose and especially coyote scat. Look PaPa, hair….coyote poop. You just have to laugh.

    Two weeks ago up the road at the creek, dead bull frog on the road. Little traffic where we live; pulled out my leather-man and we spent 30 mins. dissecting the bull frog. Pointed out a lot of parts.
    Best part was when I said, “lets see what it ate last……” one of those black water beetles that skim across the water surface, that’s what.
    She is all set for 8th grade biology.

    She can identify Maple, Oak and for some reason likes poplar leaves the best. Favorite conifer, Hemlock. Can spend over 20 min. poking the “hemlock oil blisters” with my leather-man. Sticky but tons of fun……

    Outdoor snacks we eat either wild or that I grow: Purslane, common mallow (can sit and eat those “cheese-wheels” for over 30 min.) her favorite is clover, yarrow, chickweed, calundula flowers, green beans (favorite garden food) like you pointed out; wild apples, wild grapes (fox grape); she was all “grape stained up” today.

    Will make a couple of bird feeders tomorrow out of left over pumpkins as seen on Pinterest.

    The point here is that it is everything that Maria says, times 100………….

  13. Kolapo March 9, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    This is well researched into and the outcome no doubt will definitely attract not only the children but a lot of urban adults.

  14. richard kampas March 12, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    DON’T call it DIRT,

    call it SOIL

    (the same but better)

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