Use Nature to Boost Your Child's Learning

by Mark Stevens

Nature can play a big role in helping your children advance their learning. There are many activities you can do with your child to help him or her mentally and emotionally grow during the outdoor season. Exploring parks and nature preserves, travel, and observing plant and vegetable growth in your own garden are excellent ways for children to expand their minds and learn about life.
Exploring parks and nature preserves
Get out on the path or trail with your children and see just how many plants, birds, and other growth and animals they can discover. Parks and preserves are usually great places for bird watching. Have your kids use their ears to detect the birds’ location, for example. Once they spot a particular bird, have them note the different characteristics they observe: eating habits, color, song, twitching tail, type of flight. On another outing, you can ask your children to choose a tree and note the growth and insects that rely on its bark. What kind of leaves does the tree have? Is it tall and thin or wide and short? Does it bear fruit? If there is a river or ocean nearby, is it low or high tide? What color is the water? What is lurking in or near the water or in the nearby woods?
Traveling through nature
While on the road with your kids, talk to them about what they see outside the car windows. Take turns pointing out something in the landscape. Once this exercise gets tiring, don’t just give up and watch your kids play video games for the rest of the trip. Put an audio book in your car’s CD player and let your minds paint a picture of the action and setting that your ears take in. You can then discuss those stories just as you would any goodnight story you read to your children. Sharing nature through your observances from the car and taking in an audio story or two together not only promotes learning, it also strengthens the family bond.
Observing plant and vegetable growth in your own garden
Growing a garden with your children gives them a lesson in nature and in understanding where our food comes from. Why do we till the soil? What tools do we need? Plants need water just like we do. Talk about that and about the many other aspects of gardening with your children. What characteristics does each of the vegetable plants have? Why do the bees fly to the blossoms? Let your children practice their math skills: number of plants, different plant species in the garden, branches on individual plants, weeds remaining to be removed. Teach your children about the benefit of using compost in the garden.
Lead the way to your children’s learning experience in nature. Before long, they’ll be pulling you off the couch with their green thumbs.

About the author:
Mark J. Stevens, author of LUISA'S NATURE (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, Spring 2008), is a news journalist currently working in Europe. Fluent in French, Spanish, and German, he has enjoyed extensive travel much of his life. Shaped by the rural New Jersey setting of his youth, Mark continues to explore the richness of nature with his wife and two children on the outskirts of Munich, Germany. He also belongs to several parenting and nature organizations in the U.S. and Europe. For more information, visit