Mrs. Girard’s words held more value than we knew at the time.

She was about to be our eldest daughter’s kindergarten teacher and was soon to arrive at our home to meet Sonja. This was her welcoming process with each incoming student. Her visit went well, and decades later, I remember her comments about the value of “noticing” in our child’s broadening world. Nature was at the top of her list. Even car rides, she said, would offer a plethora of abundant learning as Sonja noticed the natural world outside her window and over the course of the trip itself.

Years later, Sonja’s friend Michael shared his story. It was the start of third grade and the class was settling into the fall session by sharing their adventures from summer. Michael spoke up that he had gone to Switzerland. Teacher Kaplan encouraged him to continue: “Tell us about it,” he urged. Michael was then beyond excited to inform his teacher and classmates that … “I watched a frog!”

5 Ways to Connect Children with Nature • Nature Speaks to Us

Teacher Girard’s wisdom resurfaced again and again as we realized the important pull that nature’s mysteries cast over children. Adults have to-do lists and places to go. And, yes, we do need to accomplish … but … what is truly important, and how many minutes does it really take to engage with the beauty of a child’s observations, questions, fears, and delights? Doing so with genuine love and caring is a gift that will last children all their lives. We can all receive their questions to ponder and answer, no matter how the day’s unfolding.

Here are 5 ways to connect children with nature:

1.  Taking just a few minutes to reflect on our childhood joys and curiosities offered to us by nature is a great place to begin. After this sentence, what memory of your own pops into your mind?

2.  Allowing children to lead us rather than the other way around allows them to unfold at their own pacing. A simple walk together is enough. “What’s that? What are those noises? Why do those leaves have holes? Look, there’s a rabbit!” Following their directions to “wonderland” and further exploration opens many gift boxes.

5 Ways to Connect Children with Nature • Nature Speaks to Us

3.  Children love to collect items from nature. Pockets brimming with treasures! Clothes wet and full of sand! Spirits elevated! Usually, though, treasures need to return to their home territories as part of their inclusive ecosystems. But, sometimes the act of examining a specimen—a crab’s body, a pine cone, a strand of seaweed, part of a log, a flower, or assorted seashells—bringing them home perhaps, and then returning them later can inform us of our need to care for and respect nature’s processes and places.

4.  Simple talks about encounters with nature can expand into huge times of appreciating and learning. A spider in its spectacular web (maybe with “a catch” caught in the silken strands) connects us with themes of necessary existence. Watching seagulls swoop, their wings shifting angles and dipping into the water as they fish, teaches us to pause and witness their beautiful dances of survival. Scrambling up or down a mountain trail in the warm summer or chilly winter enhances our exploration awareness. Wondering what it’s like to actually be a Douglas fir tree takes us into the curious zones of tallness, thickness, purpose, and so much more.

5 Ways to Connect Children with Nature • Nature Speaks to Us

5.  And then there are the discussions, art, song, and chatter about our environments that fuel our expansion as creatures of nature. What we see or saw, feel or felt, and think or thought can fill our minds, days, evenings, car rides, strolls, gatherings, writings, tellings, and artistic expressions with wonder, curiosity, and playfulness—the list is long for us to be delighted with.

Nature graciously offers choices beyond and beyond.

Thank you, teachers Girard and Kaplan!