Father's Day 2011 – 7 Ways to Enjoy Nature with Your Kids

A couple of years ago, we received an email from a reader named Marty who lives in in Eastern Pennsylvania (Lehigh County) one hour south of the Pocono Mountains.  Here’s part of the email:

On of the best things I can do as a Dad is to teach my children to preserve these treasures [frogs and salamanders] that are so dear to me. My grandfather taught me the love of wild places and I want to pass that on to them.

I wish more dads were thinking about how they could introduce nature to kids. My sons are in their twenties and still love learning about wildlife and animals. I think most of this love of nature came from their dad. So I’m offering a few suggestions. But we’d like to open this up to readers of Frogs Are Green and get your ideas also. How did your father encourage your love of nature? What are you doing as a dad to instill a love of nature in your kids?

photo by Mary Jo Rhodes

Here are some ideas:

1. Take them on short hikes or walks into the woods, starting when they are very young. (Here is a list of state parks). Young children need no encouragement to love nature—everything around them is still magical and interesting (bugs, stones, flowers).  The key is to keep taking them on walks in the woods (or fishing, hiking, or whatever) throughout their childhood, even when they start saying it’s boring (the preteen years). You might have to add other incentives during the rougher times (a trip to an ice cream store afterwards or some other treat).

2. Your child might start to like one animal and that may become their animal. Encourage this by buying books about the animal, plush toys, trips to see the animal in the wild or in zoos or aquariums.

3. Adopting a wild animals from (from the World Wildlife Fund or other organizations, for for $25 or so will give your child a personal connection to animals.

4. Plan family vacations around national parks rather than amusement parks. We’ve visited a number of national parks over the years. These are fun because the trails through them are easy and well worn, there’s a certain familiarity to them (the park rangers, the gift shops, etc), and the scenery is spectacular. Your child can become a Junior Ranger and collect badges and get certificates etc.

5. Share your enthusiasm about nature, but don’t be too heavy handed about it. If kids feel you are always teaching them, they might get turned off. Instead, share your sense of wonder. Point out a cardinal (look at that red bird!), but don’t turn it into a lesson about birds.

6. The National Wildlife Federation has ideas about enjoying nature with children, including setting up a tent in your backyard and sleeping outside. You can join their Great American Backyard Campout on June 25, 2011. I camped out a few times as a kid in my suburban backyard (without the tent), and loved it. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place far from cities, you can stargaze with your children, pointing out a few constellations.

7.  As far as our amphibians friends… the best places that we’ve found to see them are state parks or wildlife refuges. Unlike Marty, we live in an urban area and it’s tough to find amphibians in a region where all the land has been developed and the swamps have been turned into strip malls. But state parks and wildlife refuges that have been left untouched, with ponds and swamps, are great places to see them. Tell your kids to look out for frogs, toads, and salamanders. Kids are closer to the ground and have sharper eyes and will most likely see them before you do.

Dads: Please send along your ideas for introducing kids to nature!

Happy Father’s Day!