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10 ways to nurture a love of nature

| Friday, June 24, 2016, 8:57 p.m.

Here are 10 ways to get children excited about spending more time outside and how to make it fun for everyone:

1. Simply be in nature. Parents need to greatly increase the amount of time their children spend playing outdoors and with free objects found in nature, says Erika Christakis, an early-childhood educator at the Yale Child Study Center and author of “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.” What's more, she suggests that we leave them alone while they do it. Try to give kids the time and space to explore and create their own adventures.

2. Sleep outside. Try sleeping in the open air. Or take a tent out into the backyard and bring only a flashlight and sleeping bag. Use the time to listen to the world around you and enjoy the fresh air.

3. Inspire by being inspired. One way to prioritize the natural world is to show great awe and enthusiasm for it. Children take cues from their parents, so when they see their parent stop, bend down and observe a small caterpillar with interest, this thing suddenly becomes more interesting to them. Embrace being a curious human and be open to learning new things.

4. Look to the skies. Check out “The Cloudspotter's Guide” from your local library, pack up a blanket to spread in a field and spend the afternoon identifying cirrostratus and cumulonimbus clouds. Discuss weather events and the clouds that precede them. Or encourage children to use their imagination to tell you what they see in the clouds. At night, look up stargazing websites that can direct you, based on the month, to the constellations, then go out and try to spot them. Print out a “moon journal” page and chart the phases of the moon.

5. Plant something. From butterfly gardens to back-patio tomatoes, there are opportunities to grow something almost anywhere. Grow vegetables and fruit from seeds in your back yard or in a shared community space. Allow your child to help prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water and weed. Start with plants that mature quickly, such as pole beans, and note their daily growth. This is the perfect opportunity to discuss where food comes from while spending time in nature.

6. Make a fairy house. Encourage imaginative play through building tiny outdoor houses for “fairies” from various natural materials such as bark, sticks, stones, flowers, grasses, acorns and pine cones. Join your child and think of the endless possibilities: a pebble path, a fence made of sticks, a walnut-shell bathtub, even a little leaf hammock.

7. Explore a pond or stream. Kids are naturally drawn to water and will spend hours being near or in it. Plan to explore a natural body of water nearby. Bring a net, a jar and a shovel to dig for creatures in the mud. Your child will find joy discovering the minnows, salamanders, crayfish, snails and insects that are abundant in these habitats.

8. Start a collection. Keep a nature table — indoors or out — with jars for found items. Just be sure to check the rules and regulations to make sure it is okay to collect something. Have a conversation with your child about the concept of “leave no trace” and the difference between picking up a dead branch from the ground, for example, and breaking one off a tree.

9. Take a hike. Go for a walk in the woods with your child. To extend attention spans during longer hikes, bring a small magnifying glass and a bug jar. Look for creatures along the way. Take your time. Try to spot 10 different insects, mammals, animal tracks or signs of animals hidden away.

10. Go barefoot. Walking barefoot can help your child develop a natural, healthy gait and optimize brain development. Letting kids walk around without shoes can help them develop good balance and an awareness of where their body is in space. It also is a joy for the senses, whether on cool grass, warm sand or squishy mud.

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