6 Ways to Close the Gap Between Kids and Nature

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If the closest your child gets to the natural, wild world is watching "Planet Earth" it's time to reconnect him with his roots. Get our tips for closing the gap between children and nature.

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Get Outside

It's no secret that making your kid turn off the TV and play outside can help reduce the risk of obesity and Nature Deficit Disorder. But did you know that exposure to nature can reduce stress and improve academic learning?

Natural Benefits

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that even a short walk outdoors can reduce symptoms of depression and stress. Additionally, students who take part in environmental awareness programs score better on academic tests and exams that measure critical thinking and creativity.

The more you can merge nature with our wired world, the greater the benefits. Check out our tips for including natural elements in everyday activities.

Bring the Outside World In

Traditional classrooms aren't exactly conducive to learning: bright primary colors, overcrowded walls and harsh overhead lights are distracting and visually overstimulating. Recent research has found found that children are better able to focus and learn in homey, natural environments. Bring a sense of serenity into your home by purchasing plants, displaying a collection of smooth rocks in a pretty bowl, using natural light and table lamps and using an earthy color palette for decor. These soothing elements will decrease your family's stress levels and look great to boot.

Integrate Learning with Nature

At Rancho Encinitas Academy in San Diego, California, the line between the natural world and classroom is constantly blurred. "Students that were previously known to dislike school are now avid learners, due to the low-key, stress-free outdoors environment that brings them a fresh, innovative, and unique approach to learning," explains Paul Wulle, the academy's director. Creating a similar environment at home by adopting a pet, planting a garden or growing fresh herbs. This connection with nature will help your child feel calm, even when tackling tricky homework assignments.

Switch Up Scenery

Playing at a playground or on a backyard structure is great exercise, but it's not the same as exploring wild, natural spaces. Building caves, baking mud pies, splashing in water and learning about plants and animals are just a few things kids can do in urban jungles. Unleash your wild side and bring this natural concept home. Leave part of your yard untamed for your little one's creative exploration. Encourage him to make a fort using materials from the backyard, collect pine cones or dig in the dirt for fossils.

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Become Nature-Literate

Brush up on your environmental knowledge to help your child get interested in the natural world. Help your child look up and name the plants in your yard and local animals that inhabit your area. Can you find a bird by hearing its sound? Describe the phases of the moon or the stars in your sky? Identify edible, wild plants? Teaching your kid to pay attention to details in nature helps him better appreciate the outside world. Being alert to his surroundings will also help him avoid dangerous situations, such as potential kidnappers or hazardous weather.

Keep It Playful

Who doesn't love a game? Former educator Greg Miliates loves to plan nature-related field trips for his kids' school, creating games designed to increase the students' awareness of their natural surroundings. In Rainbow Chips, Miliates gives each child a brightly colored paint chip, such as purple or blue, and asks them to find the color in nature as they're out walking. Start a game of Rainbow Chips or go on a nature scavenger hunt. Give your little explorer a list of natural materials to find, and work together to find each item. Or make it a friendly competition between your kid and his friends to see who can finish their list the fastest.

Get Organized

Hiking or camping is a little overwhelming to a lifelong city dweller. If you want to get your kids outdoors, but have little experience with tents, forests and campfires, don't go it alone. Join a nature club or sign up for classes. The Nature Conservancy gives great tips on starting a nature club and even offers a four-week internship for high school students to work and learn with scientists in a natural setting.

Natural Connection

You don't need to buy expensive equipment or trek miles away to explore nature with your child. Bring the natural world indoors and you can inspire your child to adopt a curious, playful attitude toward the outside world.

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