Get Into Nature!

I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood filled with kids riding bikes and lemonade stands and tree forts. The kind of place where neighbors borrow cups of sugar from each other, and balloons decorate mailboxes on birthday party days. We later moved to a tiny town in Wisconsin, where the blue sky seemed to stretch forever. It was a good childhood.

And most of it was spent outdoors. My dad traveled for business during the week, leaving my mom to wrangle us kids…I being the eldest with two younger brothers. My mom was one of those “I have three kids under five” moms. Which is why we heard very frequently “Go OUTSIDE and play!”

I now holler the same thing at my kids. We have a large corner lot in the city, fenced in and surrounded by tall lilac bushes and maple trees. They have a swing set and a play house and riding toys and sidewalk chalk and a great menagerie of sports equipment. I send them outside with the dogs who watch over them and I let them fend for themselves. They fight and get hurt and get amazingly dirty….but they take care of themselves and each other. They also have the free space to examine bugs and try to catch butterflies (and robins) and they yell hi to our neighbors over the fence. Only once have they let themselves out of the yard to go stand at the bus stop.

I want them to have a happy and safe childhood, and I want most of it to be spent outside. Nature gives them the chance to problem solve, to think creatively, to constantly use their understanding of science to build on bigger concepts. I’ve been told more than once to go back inside, that I’m bothering them.

Here are some tips our family would like to share with you on how we enjoy nature. Make a point to get outside everyday!

1. My family gardens because it is such a relaxing way to connect with the Earth right in your own backyard. The returning perennials teach the children that as we go through the seasons, the Earth has a plan for each of us. The brightly colored annuals teach them to celebrate the warm months in a parade of design and color, and the fruits and vegetables show them how the good soil gives us what we need and can sustain us.
2. Our kids are big bug catchers, and while I’m a nature lover, I’m not so much a bug lover. So we have various contraptions and compartments that can be carried in our picnic basket, park bag, or hiking pack. They are made of clear plastic so that the kids can observe and learn about their new little friend.
3. If you have forgotten how joyful it is to dance in a warm summer rainstorm, or lay in the sun-warmed grass to look for shapes in the clouds, or spend an evening catching fireflies…you need to take time this summer to remind yourself. All three activities have a great price point and offer up some great free play.
4. A favorite activity of my kids, ages 5 and 3, is to get on their rainboots and march down to the creek that runs through our local park. They have been known to spend up to two hours throwing in peddles, small sticks, reeds, pine cones. It is a great opportunity to teach them about plants, water currents, rain cycle, fish and frogs, birds, etc.
5. In this busy world, we frequently forget to listen. I love going out in the woods with my kids, and midway through the trek we kneel down on the path and just listen. It is actually kind of spiritual to watch their eyes as they take in the wind, birds, insects.
6. Always be open to all that nature can offer when traveling through life with small kids. Last year our strawberry picking trip turned into a bear hunt in the woods, which led to us to picking milkweed, which led us to discovering and raising caterpillars that turned into monarch butterflies.
7. On most summer Sunday mornings, you can find us at a local farm, enjoying fresh dough nuts and picking out local grown produce and artisan crafts. The conversations about weather and bugs that my kids have with the farmer are hilarious, and we see families we know from town so it is a great way to connect with community and support a local business.

3yo Benny helping plant seeds in the veggie garden.


5yo Amelia singing lullabies to a worm.


Kid-made fort in the yard. I was told to scram.