Posted: Oct 30, 2013 6:00 AM
 
This year, my daughter sparked a new interest in nature after a visit from her scientist grandpa. No longer an "Ew, gross!" girl when it comes to bugs and lizards, she now holds them and saves them. From classifying sea shells to drawing pictures in our nature journal, we're finding many kid-friendly ways to appreciate and learn more about nature.

"Look, Mom," I heard my daughter exclaim yesterday after coming in from playing outside. "Look Mom" generally precedes one of the following: a new gymnastic move, an awesome drawing, a huge mess or our dog dressed in doll clothes, cowering embarrassingly from a corner. So I was surprised when I turned around to find my daughter holding her hand out, palm down, with a centipede crawling slowly across the top of it. She hasn't always been so comfortable around crawling critters. In fact, we used to laugh that she'd need therapy after a tiny frog jumped and landed on her face when she was 2. But she's 6 now, and we've noticed a budding little naturalist this past year as her interest for birds and lizards, sea shells and insects continues to grow. My stepfather, a scientist, has delighted in my daughter's new nature curiosity, introducing her to field guides and science publications geared toward children. Consequently, our entire family is learning more about how to investigate the world around us.

Got a budding naturalist on your hands? There are a number of fun ways to foster your child's curiosity and love of nature — activities that will no doubt create learning experiences for you as well.

Subscribe to a children's nature magazine

My parents bought a subscription to National Geographic Kids for my daughter's birthday this year, and the day our magazine arrives always merits a little celebration. Not only does the magazine provide an excellent opportunity for us to sit down and read through it with our kids, but my daughter enjoys cutting pictures out of the magazine and using them in artwork. National Geographic Kids, Zoobooks and Ranger Rick are all great science/nature magazines geared toward children, and all three offer a subscription version for even younger children (National Geographic for Little Kids, Zoobies and Zootles and Ranger Rick Jr.).

Nature scavenger hunts

Make neighborhood walks and trips to the park or beach more interesting by giving your child a list of nature things to find: a smooth rock, a pinecone, animal tracks, a feather, a leaf with jagged edges, etc. This will help teach your child to be aware of his surroundings and make good observations about his environment but will also create teachable moments and promote great questions. If you can't bring your nature treasures home, use your phone to take pictures of what you see, and use the photos later to research more back home.

Invest in good field guides

Check your local bookstore or online to find field guides designated for local species in your geographic location (some are more child-friendly than others), and encourage your child to use it in identifying birds, trees, flowers, sea shells, etc. My daughter loves pulling out our easy-to-follow field guide for South Florida shells (we often include it in our beach bag) and from it has learned how to quickly distinguish an auger from a conch. Keep a tally in your field guide by checking off any species you observe.

allParenting Kelle Hampton naturalist- classification

Encourage classification

A good scientist learns that nature can be categorized based on a number of identifying characteristics. Encourage your child to make observations (use a magnifying glass for close-up details) of nature collections and sort them based on color, shape, size, etc. If your child is old enough to write, lay a sheet of butcher paper on the floor and have her write categories and arrange her nature treasures on the paper (a great activity for fall leaves).

Start a nature journal

We recently started a nature journal — one for my daughter and one for me (and soon the younger siblings will join). There are no specific rules to what goes in the nature journal, but it creates a great opportunity to make learning fun. We draw pictures of our treasures, write facts next to them (after a little online research) and use watercolor paints and colored pencils to color things in. It will be fun over the years to see how these journals grow and how many different species we observe.

allParenting Kelle Hampton naturalist- examining closer

Research

I'm trying to encourage my daughter to ask more questions about her nature observations to promote life-long learning. Did you like that turtle? Let's go look online to see if we can learn more about him. Did you see that ant carrying that crumb? Let's go find out how much weight an ant can carry. Take trips to the library or do a little internet searching to find child-friendly sites and videos that expand your child's learning. Before long, your child will be the one suggesting more research opportunities and you'll be the one following along.

Observe even closer

There are great products available that allow your child to have a closer look behind nature processes. Observe the entire life cycle from caterpillar to butterfly by investing in a metamorphosis kit (an experience not to be forgotten!) or see what happens underneath an ant hill with an ant farm. Check out insectlore.com and insectkits.com to find more ways your child can have a behind-the-scenes look at nature's phenomena.

Arrange a field trip

Nature professionals in your community are often eager to share their knowledge and experience, and it never hurts to ask. Try calling a local vet, nature conservancy, state park, nearby farm or Humane Society to see if you can line up a short trip for your child and her friends to learn a little bit more about animals and their surroundings.

More from Kelle Hampton

In defense of Halloween
For the love of ballet
Baby stuff: What to save, what to throw away

Topics: