Last month one of our bloggers had the chance to travel to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada for the Children & Nature Network Annual Conference & International Summit. There were oodles of panels and “walkshops” teaching educators, administrators, and other environmentally-focused people best practices for leading classes to students of all ages. There were even classes with doctors discussing the benefits of time in nature on a person’s physical and mental health.
The biggest focus was how to get the whole family outside and interacting with nature.
The plan was to achieve this through running Family Nature Clubs, which are exactly what they sound like: kids and adults, from babies through senior citizens, enjoying time learning about nature and playing in it with other families in their community. Lots of organizations run these, but they can also be totally informal and run by its own members. We heard from speakers who run these clubs all over the world, including in the United States.
There are tons of resources online, especially through the Children & Nature Network where these clubs were first coined. (Scroll down for the “Nature Club Toolkit for Families” in English and several other languages).
What was really surprising was that there is even an app for parents of 0-3 year olds to help them have nature activity time! This app, GROW With Nature Play, is a parenting tool which lists hundreds of nature activities, organized by age appropriateness, which parents can use after they’ve gone home and put their child to rest for a nap, to track what they’ve done that day. Activities can be as simple as looking at a bird flying by!
The Grow With Nature Play app was created by an Austialian father who wanted to be sure his kids were experiencing nature and family time daily from the start of their lives.
The ideas didn’t stop there. We talked about how to make activities fun and educational for families with mixed ages-- trying to get a 6 year old and a 16 year old enjoying the same things can be scary even for seasoned teachers! As much as kids may act like they don’t want to be with the family, they overall enjoy hanging out with their siblings and don’t like to be divided by age, so partner them together. We learned a really important tip that sometimes adults forget: teenagers like to know they’re trusted, as they’re trying to come into their own as indivuals and young adults, so give them some responsibility, like watching the kids or guarding the first aid kit.
When it comes to activities that kids of different ages just can’t physically do or understand in the same way, find ways to work around it. For example, nature photography is a great way to get everyone exploring. Preteens and up like to get creative with their camera angles and lighting or finding something really challenging to take a picture of, while for littles they just want to play I Spy. Both are alright! You can even make a scavenger hunt or activity sheet for each age range: for the youngest, instead of writing the words, use drawings, like of a flower or leaf, to tell them what to look for.
A few more activities that kids of all ages can enjoy:
As one speaker said, “They don’t need to understand the biology to develop the wonder.” People of all ages just love spending time with animals and nature!
If you try any of these activities with your family (or find a new one), let us know how it went! Later this year we’ll let you know too.
Kids have great eyes to spot well-camouflaged creatures like this Northwestern Mole Salamander (be sure to always use clean hands devoid of chemicals or oils before handling any amphibian, their fragile skin absorbs everything!)
Sarah is a conservation educator and trained zookeeper currently working at an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoo in New Jersey while also starting a freelance nature program in Jersey City. Her education specialties include urban environmental programming and access, while her keeping specialties are focused on small mammals, arthropods, and birds of prey.
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Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!