HOW TO: Explore & Appreciate Nature with Toddlers

by , 04/17/10

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My toddler becomes a different person when I take her outdoors. Her affinity for nature and her desire to soak up every last detail of her vibrant surroundings is literally a breath of fresh air. Every time we head  into the great wide open, she lets out a gleeful scream and runs into the backdrop with gusto. Most children are mystified by and eager to experience and explore nature and the outdoors. As parents, it’s our pleasure to usher them into the scenery by giving them an appreciation for the beauty, teaching them to respect, protect and preserve wildlife and plant life, and most of all, to have fun. Here are several ways to explore nature with your toddler that will surely help him or her grow-up to be a responsible, eco-conscious citizen of our beautiful planet.

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Talk to the Animals

Most cities have a local zoo or petting farm; and teaching children about animals by letting them observe and interact with wildlife is invaluable for their development. We’re lucky to live very close to the Oregon Zoo, which we visit at least weekly. We’ve gotten up close and personal with several of the animals — watched an elephant paint a gorgeous abstract painting, and above, my daughter got to feed an elk (called a “reindeer” on Christmas Eve) a carrot so he’d have the strength to fly Santa’s sleigh that night. She reminisces about this experience regularly — as being so close in proximity to such an amazing creature left an indelible impression on her. It’s easy to nurture a young child’s inherent love of animals by exposing them to their beauty and humility regularly.

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Share Your Interests & Hobbies

My nephew’s dad is an amazing surfer, and above, you can see that he is following in his footsteps. If you’re an avid cyclist, runner, hiker, etc. share your outdoor passions with your children from the moment they are born. Secure them in a carrier and hit the trail, get a jogging stroller and take them for an invigorating run, share a scenery filled bike ride. Your child will grow up with a keen awareness of your hobby, and will enjoy being included and taught about something so special to you. Plus, what could be better than having a jogging buddy in your very own kid?

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Indulge in the Beauty of Local Scenic Attractions & Landmarks

Everywhere you turn, nature is waiting to awe and impress you. Oregon is particularly overflowing with scenic attractions, such as Multnomah Falls, seen above. Take advantage of the beauty being offered in your local area by taking your children on jaunts to see what nature is unfolding in their own community. Gear them up with a play camera to ‘capture’ all the fun. Activities in your neck of the woods might include: picking seasonal fruits and vegetables at a local farm, visiting a farmer’s market, even going to a nearby park and discussing all of the animals, flowers, trees, even the clouds in the sky — or watching the sunset, which is available to all of us.

Hit the Beach

There are as many things to learn about nature at the beach as there are grains of sand. Okay, not really, but hitting the beach is not only fun, it’s educational! Aside from being a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors, kids can learn about the ocean by watching the waves and the tide, they can collect seashells, try to find hermit crabs, build castles with the sand… you get the idea. Turn beach-going from a summertime jaunt into an opportunity to teach your tot about marine life and how we need to protect our oceans. Older kids can even join you on a Heal the Bay or similar mission, pitching in to clean up litter and preserve our beaches. Just don’t forget the SPF and protective sun hats!

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Stop and Smell the Roses

Flowers! Kids love them! And have you ever noticed that kids constantly point out flowers that adults may have just as easily walked right by? Seriously, stop and smell the roses, and every other flower with your toddlers. Take a moment to teach them about bees and pollination. Make them aware of the vital role that flowers and plant life play with regard to the survival our planet.

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Instill a Love for All Seasons

It’s easy to want to turn into a hermit when rainy or snowy weather puts a damper on heading outside… but braving the outdoors in moderately ‘bad’ weather will teach kids how to be adaptable and flexible, while also teaching them about the seasons. If it’s just drizzling outside, suit your tot up in rain boots and a raincoat and let her splash in the puddles — an all time favorite activity of little kids. And we all know the fun that may be had in the snow — snowball fights, sledding, tobogganing, making snow angels…

What’s your favorite nature activity that you enjoy with your kids? Please share in the comments below!

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