How Can I Support My Child’s Connection to Nature?

Experts across many disciplines agree that exposure and time spent in nature is critical to children’s emotional well-being and development. Additionally, time spent outside promotes a sense of place and a connection to nature, both of which are linked to pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors later in life. In a busy city like New York and an ever-increasing presence of screens in our life, spending time outside can seem especially challenging. Here are some tips for how to promote a lifelong connection to the natural world in your children.

Encourage observations anytime walking outdoors.

Your child is naturally curious and constantly observing as he takes in the world around him. Encourage this tendency by asking questions about what natural phenomena he’s seeing on your walks to the subway or around the neighborhood. From trees to many migratory birds, NYC’s native wildlife might surprise you. Encouraging these observations not only helps your child develop a skill fundamental for scientific inquiry, but will promote and heighten his awareness of the natural world as it exists within the city.

Have unstructured playtime in a natural area at least once a week.

Set up a weekly playtime in a local natural area with no restrictions about how messy she can get or how she should engage with the nature surrounding them. Let her play in the mud, roll in the grass or sand, collect sticks, rocks, create animal homes etc. Allowing her to have free, imaginative play in nature regularly will strengthen her bond to nature and increase her confidence to explore the world around them. From Prospect Park to Coney Island, there are many parks and beaches throughout NYC that will naturally facilitate this type of play.

Participate regularly in outdoor activities.

Play with your child outside! Let him see you get messy, explore new things, and show curiosity about nature. Enjoying the natural world together will strengthen your family bond and reinforce that exploring can be done at any age.

Go outdoors in all seasons.

It does get very cold and hot in NYC, but going outside in all seasons will help your child appreciate that nature can be enjoyed any time of year, not just when the weather is nice. It’s also an excellent opportunity to promote observations as the natural world changes around her. From apple picking to sledding there are countless ways to get outside in any season.

Participate in one of the many (free or paid) nature programs offered in the city.

There are many institutions in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens that offer both free and ticketed opportunities to learn more about and explore the natural areas within the borough. Your borough’s zoo, park, or botanical garden are a few of many options that offer programs designed to get families outside and exploring together.

Participate in a citizen science or stewardship program in your neighborhood.

Consider participating in a beach clean up, park restoration project, bird-counting program or other citizen science project, especially with an older child. Citizen-science and stewardship projects give him a hands-on opportunity to do scientific work in nature, which has a positive impact on these ecosystems or species, and will help develop his sense of community. Taking concrete, measurable actions within the place of interest is linked to taking these types of actions later in life.