Next Wednesday, April 22, I’ll be putting on an Earth Day event at Wonder Works, a Children’s Museum in Oak Park. I’ll be using this blog to (1) write about and illustrate the principles that I’m using to design this program, (2) show examples of what we wind up doing at Wonder Works, and (3) give readers ideas about what they can do in their own neighborhoods to support the development of nature-loving kids.
In days to come I’ll expound on the history of the No Child Left Inside movement (which I seem to be a part of) and discuss some authors who have helped me develop my ideas (like Richard Louv, David Sobel, and others). For now, I’ll just spell out the most recent version of my own, personal, Principles for Raising Nature-loving Kids in an Urbanized Environment:
1. Appreciate the nature you’ve got. There’s probably a lot more nature in your neighborhood than you realize. Recognize what you’ve got, pay attention to it, appreciate it, incorporate it into your life and into your kids’ play. (This blog provides ideas of what to look for in your neighborhood.)
2. Make your neighborhood a better place for nature-loving kids. Grow a garden, feed the birds, salt your sandbox, keep outdoor containers filled with water all year ’round, give the kids a corner of your yard where they can build a fort or play in the dirt.
3. Bring the outdoors indoors — but do it as a beginning, not as an end in itself. Collect natural things and bring them home, fill the bathtub with snow, raise indoor plants, make sure the kids’ toy box includes sticks and rocks as well as plastic toys, start an aquarium, make home-made play dough when you can’t play in the mud, keep pets — small wild ones and larger domesticated ones. But realize that this is just a beginning — the real goal is to get back outside and experience nature in an outdoor setting.
4. Bring the indoors outdoors. Toy trucks and cars, wooden trains, and plastic dinosaurs are as much fun outdoors as they are inside — and maybe more! Back when my kids were passionately interested in these things, we used to move our play to the front sidewalk or our vest-pocket backyard once the weather turned warm. You can see examples here and here and here. (Oops, maybe skip the last one if you’re not used to having older b0ys around.)
5. Use all the resources available to you — people, print, and electronic. Find informal mentors in your neighborhood, at local organizations (like clubs and museums), or online. Visit your local library frequently and search the Web for more resources. (As your kids grow older and more media savvy, they may take over this role, like my boys did with our family’s birding interest.)
6. Be prepared to travel. The first four principles are about making your home and neighborhood a better place to raise nature-loving kids. If you are successful, they’ll outgrow the nature you can offer close to home. When my kids were young, we visited local parks, museums, zoos, and arboretums. Now we go still go to parks, but we also search out other places, where we make our own natural experiences. (You can see examples here and here.)
7. Understand and support whatever kinds of nature-loving kids you’ve got. Observe how your child interacts with nature, and start from there. Do they lead with their head or their heart? Do they seek adventure or avoid it? What attracts them, what disgusts or frightens them? Knowing these things will help you design a life-in-nature that builds on their interests and strengths.
That’s almost it for now — but I’ll be writing more over the next few weeks (both before and after Earth Day). Feel free to contribute your own thoughts!
For now, just one more thing: A link to a Pioneer Press article about our Earth Day plans for Wonder Works. (Thanks, Myrna!)
Note: Principles 5 and 6 were added on April 20, 2009. Principle 4 was added on August 11, 2009.