The greatest thing we can do for our kids is get them outside! Outside play nourishes a child and creates a lifelong love of nature.
Not sure where to start? Here's a list of fun ways to enjoy nature in your own backyard. Some of these ideas can earn you 15 points toward Conservation@Home certification too!
Learn about the Chicago Wilderness's Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights
Ten ways to connect kids with nature in the yard
Buy and plant a young native tree together – make it your child’s own tree to water each week for its first year, and to mulch each spring and fall. A 3’ tall tree in a 5-gallon bucket is a great size that does not require a large hole or large amount of water. It’s great if they can see the tree from their bedroom window but be sure to choose a species that will thrive in the site’s growing conditions. Measure and compare the tree and child’s height through the seasons.
Kids love to make and claim their very own fort, teepee or treehouse. Simple materials provide them with creative license – a blanket thrown over a rope, a row of long sticks leaning against a shed, a table surrounded by plants with a blanket underneath. Permanent structures provide a dry place for a tea party or good book during a rain.
A planted teepee of vines or island of sumacs, Indian grass or other tall plants that allow children to squirm between or make their own maze through can provide fragrance, colors and sounds that delight. Ducking through a tunnel, peering through a wall of greenery and cutting through a path heightens adventure and excitement.
Lawns are great for running (when they’re not drenched in 2,4-D or other toxic lawn chemicals). A wide path that makes a loop around or through a planted island might be even better.
Consider a small project your child can have responsibility for. Watering the newly planted coneflowers. Keeping the bird bath full. Keeping the sand/pebble spot for the butterflies moistened (a calm sunny spot, ideally accompanied by a flat dark rock for sunning). Take time to teach him how to do this well, and notice when he does a good job.
It’s hard to deny the joy of digging up a rock, peeling apart a flower or dissecting – yes – a dead frog.
Sand, rocks and water. Leaves, sticks and dirt. These are the time-tested ingredients of a happy childhood. May we also suggest a net, firefly jar, magnifying glass and small pair of binoculars? (Want fireflies? Skip the lawn chemicals and limit the autumn clean-up of leaves and dead stems to your most formal gardens. And please let the little buggers go free before bedtime.)
Forget the high-maintenance bird feeders. Instead, plant a wild plum, elderberry or patch of joe-pye-weed – or some other species that fits well with your aesthetics and growing conditions – and tops out at the height of your window sill. Meals will take on a new dimension.
Research shows that children are happier, smarter, healthier and stronger when they have time for unstructured play in the out-of-doors. Even 15 minutes at the beginning or end of the day can make a big difference.