Careers & Education

Exciting nature and science education for children

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A girl with a plant
Learning about animals who share their environment, feeding birds and helping in the garden all provide safe, confidence-building experiences
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Learning is made fun with these tips.

Increasingly, educators are expressing concern about the amount of time children spend indoors. Studies on growing obesity rates in children, reading difficulties and possible links between aggressive behavior and too much TV or video games suggest that perhaps childhood is becoming too sedentary for healthy growth. Teachers and parents are seeking ways to get children active and are reexamining the value of nature experiences for children. 


Explore Your Backyard


In a few communities, providing nature and science education for children remains as easy as opening the door. Yards and areas farther afield introduce children to independent exploration of a larger world.

Even in a backyard, the workings of sun and rain, the presence of plants, trees, insects, birds, small animals like squirrels and chipmunks and hands-on experiences with grasses, rocks, dirt and mud provide a fertile area for observation and imagination.

Teaching nature and science are easy with a pail and shovel, bucket of water and cups for pouring, a plastic hand-lense and a plastic container for collecting interesting objects. These are all tools that will provide materials for lots of interesting conversations and questions about how the world works.


Urban Nature Education


For other children, however, nature experiences are few, distant and foreign. Children in urban apartments and spread-out suburban neighborhoods are likely to learn much more about organized recreation, stranger-danger and the importance of adults knowing their whereabouts at all times than the pleasures of fooling around doing what appears to be nothing under a neighborhood tree.

The outdoors is perceived as unsafe - the background for car trips to the playground or organized sports and generally inhospitable to those wishing just to watch and wander. 


Roles of Parents


Providing nature experiences for children can challenge parents. For two-income families finding time to arrange a family activity that may not have a strictly-stated purpose or time limit can be difficult. Going to a movie or the skating rink can be scheduled more clearly. Furthermore, parents whose own childhoods were spent on city streets or suburban sports fields may feel the only thing they can pass on to their children is their own ignorance about the natural world. 


Find a Nature Center

Parents can, however, resume their roles as children's best teachers by taking a few steps to educate themselves. County recreation departments can usually provide a list of natural areas and nature centers as well as the more conventional play parks. Calling a nature center ahead of time to determine what kinds of information are available helps make the most of your excursion.


Research Your Field

Libraries and educational catalogs increasingly stock books on nature and science for children. Good nature and science education catalogs provide lots of explorative kits and other materials as well. Setting forth even in one's neighborhood, with a child-level bird book, tree guide, bug box or hand lens is a great start for exploring nature.

Contact Nature Organizations

Organizations dedicated to nature conservation see education as critical to their success, so you will generally find them anxious to teach you and your children all they can. Fortunately, there are no rigid guidelines for personal nature and science education. Start where you are and follow your eyes and ears as well as your nose.


Begin in Your Community

Starting where you are is the most recent trend in nature and science education for children. Educators are discovering that children exposed to nature and science only through studying the rain forest or the arctic often emerge from the experience feeling distressed and helpless. Forests are being destroyed and animals are dying in places they cannot visit or see. Skimping on paper towels to save the world is very abstract for grade-school children to feel good about.

Pitching in with family to clean up trash in a local park, on the other hand, enables children to see that their feelings and their actions count. Learning about animals who share their environment, feeding birds and helping in the garden all provide safe, confidence-building experiences. It is hard to regard the natural world as a fearsome, foreign place when you can see what you have done to make that world better.

Developing Family Activities


Providing nature and science education for your children will require some small adjustments in how you look at family activities. Many children and adults can be initially uncomfortable with an exploration that doesn't have a strictly-stated purpose. You will need to share your enthusiasm.

Gradually, children's curiosity will lead you forward into new experiences and you can share the pleasure of discovery. Get started with nature and science education for children in your family. The world around you is a wonderful classroom for everyone.

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