Start early and bring your kids to nature on a regular basis is the only secret I know of to inspire a love of nature. Dentist say teach your toddler to brush their teeth so it becomes a routine from the start. Educators say read to your baby and toddler. Make going outdoors a part of your daily or weekly baby and toddler routine. While you are outside, share with your child your observations of plants and seeds, animals, rocks, and stars. Share your wonder of nature's beauty and complexity!
I lived in a major city when my two children were born and still live in the city. I've always lived in cities, but I'm a true and true nature lover. I thank my parents for taking my siblings and I hiking and camping frequently and for making us get back and forth to school on our own.
My husband and I lived in downtown Oakland when we had our kids. I walked my first born and later our two kids on our apartment lined block a couple of times a day and often went to one of the two parks in our neighborhood. Often times these excursions were a short 10-15 minutes and other times an hour.
The time outside the apartment, smelling and seeing the outdoors was as soothing to me as I believe it was for them. The back of our building had an interesting garden with some mature plants. With my first born, I'd sit her by a plant or accompany her toddling around and we'd gently touch some of the plants and I'd talk about their texture..."look how smooth"..."oh, how bumpy"..."look at the little berries."
That reminds me of a couple of things. When my kids where in middle school, we were backpacking and encountered a family backpacking with two toddler girls. I have no idea how they pulled that off, but you don't have to be that ambitious to inspire a love of nature in your kids. Occasional walks and hikes will work too.
We had a backpack for our toddler. She would walk for a while and then my husband or I would carry her for a while. Yeah, he did more carrying than I did. From there we moved on to one mile hikes and walks around town. You probably know that a block can take a long time with a toddler! So much stopping and looking.
My son's preschool was about 4 blocks from our home, so he and I walked back and forth. It was slow I'm sure, but I loved the idea that he was building strength, and that walking would be second nature to him. In elementary school, I pretended we didn't have a car when it came to getting to school. If it was drizzling or raining, we'd walk to school as I wanted them to be rugged. Rugged for Californians that is, which I know doesn't count for very much in other parts of the country.
Also, I have no qualms about using small bribes to help young kids hike. My parents used M&M's on me and I used similar treats on my kids. I remember once I needed them to climb a tall hill at the end of a hike, so I broke granola bars into thirds and doled them out incrementally. The occasional use of bribes, treats, or rewards is fine; just be sure you only use rewards occasionally or you'll undermine your kids self-motivation.
Here's one last nature and kid's story. When my daughter was nearly 5 and my son was almost 3, we moved from the apartment to a house. Shortly after my Mom and I dug out some old plants in the backyard. Well, the rain came and turned that spot into a big mud pit. For the next month, my kids were in that mud pit every chance they got and any kids that came over ended up in the mud, too. It was hilarious and made me think my kids did have some nature deprivation from living in an apartment. They had an unfilled desire to play in the mud.
Lastly, what to do if your kids are reluctant to walk or if you start hiking when your kids are older than 3. This may be obvious but don't take your reluctant hiker on a hike with another kid that isn't into it. That'll reinforce the wrong thing.
In that case, I recommend you find some slightly older kids who love hiking and take your first short hike with them. You want the hike or the time outdoors to seem totally natural, no pun intended. Do your best to ensure you'll be successful from the start. Start small and build up to more time and longer walks. Look for others or groups that are into hiking if you have a reluctant hiker. Your kids are more likely to walk and like it, if they see lots of people walking, peers walking, and people having fun in nature.
Last Photo: My kids, husband Tod and I in Mt. Diablo, CA.
All Other Photos: My kids and husband Tod in Big Basin, CA.
I Heart Moss is a nature shop with gifts and jewelry for nature lovers. Karen Nierlich is Mom to two nature lovers, now almost 18 and 16 years old. She was also an elementary school teacher before she had kids.