Connecting Children to Nature: Ideas and Activities for Parents and Educators

ISBN: 978-1-939019-12-7
SIZE: 6 x 9
PRICE $29.95

“Implementing the ideas in Connecting Children to Nature: Ideas and Activities for Parents and Educators will go a long way toward creating a nature-rich future.”  —Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network

Connecting children and youth to nature entails, first, fostering their love of nature and empathy with the natural world; second, helping them acquire, appropriate to their development, a grasp of how living things and systems work; and third, guiding them to make knowledgeable choices as they live out their lives at home and in community. This is a practical, how-to book. The premise is that we are in living in a critical time for a reality check on how our kids are growing up. The digital world and screen time have become pervasive. Some balance needs to be restored for healthful development, for the sake of both child and society. The chapters in this book, written by professionals from backgrounds in both school and informal education, offer examples and activities utilizing many outdoor settings, from backyard and neighborhood to study abroad. You will find fresh ideas and useful resources for parenting infants to teens and college students, or teaching pK-16, or even teaching teachers, and it is all about the theory and practice of introducing children of all ages to the phenomena of nature and building upon their experiences to grow their naturalist intelligence and critical conscience.


“Implementing the ideas in Connecting Children to Nature: Ideas and Activities for Parents and Educators will go a long way toward creating a nature-rich future.” —Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network

“This wide-ranging book is packed with antidotes for nature-deficit disorder. A variety of parents, classroom teachers, and informal educators share successful strategies for getting young people out of the building, away from the video screen, and into engagement with the natural world—age-appropriate experiences that can awaken the senses, improve physical and mental health, and foster a commitment to preserving natural places. The most memorable learning often comes not from lessons about far-off places and endangered species, but from regular immersion in local environments. Connecting Children to Nature is an inspiring, practical guide by people who are making it happen.” —Michael K. Stone, Senior Editor at the Center for Ecoliteracy, Berkeley, CA, author of Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability and Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World

“Overall, I love the idea, flavor and nature of this resource. It is well written and filled with practical advice and ideas for the parent, educator (formal and non-formal), and even the administrator. It motivated me to want to get outdoors (even more so than I already do as an outdoor educator!) and continue to find ways to connect the natural world to my students, and my children, family and friends. It was a refreshing read on such an important subject, and enjoyable to hear so many different respected authors share a similar voice and perspective.” —Laurie MacLaughlin, Instructor and Program Director, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, Penn State University

“Connecting Children with Nature is a profound book that has shown up at the perfect time. At a time when children have become increasingly more disconnected from Earth, this book offers a different path forward. Rather than taking a doomsday approach to the environmental challenges facing us, it offers supportive and practical strategies to engage children in building their connection with nature. The authors have honed in on the essential aspects of forging a bond with nature that lead to empathy and ultimately social action. This book is a must read for all of us—parents, educators, counselors, citizens of Earth. We owe it to future generations to act now in lovingly and actively supporting this connection.” —Pat Cleveland, 4th grade teacher, Dewey Elementary, Evanston District 65, Jane Goodall Dewey Roots & Shoots Program Facilitator

“This is a great resource for parents, teachers, and practicing environmental/outdoor educators. This book describes in detail an experiential, holistic approach to connecting children to nature in order to create lasting environmental consciousness in their lives. Just when I thought this book was missing something there would be a chapter covering that topic.” —Shane Seaton, Activity Area Coordinator/Graduate Assistant, HoneyRock-Outdoor Center for Leadership Development of Wheaton College

“As a school counselor and parent, I believe strongly in the connection between youth and the natural world. This book provides tangible ideas and examples of how to engage as well as addressing the ultimate question of why it matters so much to the individual and to the natural environment. It offers me not only background and theories for why kids should have more exposure to the natural world, but many useful methods and techniques I can use at home or foster in my school to further enhance children’s and adults’ connection to nature.” —Woody Belt, MA, Parent, Elementary School Counselor, Adventure Educator, Morrisville, VT

Excerpt from the Book

Parents and educators of children from preschool through high school are the intended audience for this book. The editors, Michael Bentley, Michael Mueller and Bruce Martin have skillfully organized this resource into five main sections.

Part One: Why It Matters
Chapter one, by Michael Bentley, frames the purpose of the book, citing the widespread deprivation of children and youth from nature-based experiences—a trend that not only impoverishes them but impacts the living world itself. He refers to the special issue of with its focus on the term that Richard Louv coined, “nature-deficit disorder,” and how it led to the development of this book. An artful chapter, Bentley makes a personal observation as part of the rationale for this book, “I hate the thought … of a less lively world.” Chapter two is engaging, practical and inspiring. Teresa Shume makes a powerful case for creating opportunities for children to bond with nature before they experience the responsibilities of addressing complex environmental issues. Drawing from the work of David Sobel and others, she clearly describes how to create opportunities for developmentally-appropriate experiences for children from birth through the teen years.

Part Two: Developing Empathy
Part two comprises four chapters, with each making clearly-written contributions to what the reader—whether parent, educator or another interested adult—can do in a variety of settings and with diverse ages to create positive nature-based experiences. Paula Kleintjes Neff helps every parent with a newborn or toddler understand the options available for getting outdoors, and explains how easy it is to begin accruing the benefits of outdoor adventures for even the very young—through all the seasons. Darlene Maxwell follows with her enchanting introduction to the importance of play itself, providing an academic foundation for the developmental benefits of play. She distinguishes effectively between free and structured play. With practical insights drawn from her experience, she says, “The most important gift we can give young children … is the time, opportunity and joy of being able to be a child suited to explore the natural world.” “Kid-Scaping” Your Backyard for Nature Play by Ken Finch follows next. The author knows what he is talking about—with a firm grasp on the research and decades of experience, this reader-friendly chapter is filled with ideas that work and that will enrich the lives of children of all ages. The ideas are applicable to more settings than backyards—including schoolyards and nearby parks. Teresa Auldridge offers more detail than one might imagine about how to engage children in interacting with a host of common creatures—from meal worms and silkworms to crayfish, butterflies and bess beetles.

Part Three: Exploring the Local Natural Environment
Nick Boutis offers a case study of Glen Helen in Ohio, a residential, environmental learning center, illustrating the value of concentrated, week-long, nature-based outdoor experiences for children. Catherine Pangan offers a number of activities and fun facts for things to do outdoors at night. She suggests having children practice in the daylight in pairs, taking turns using blindfolds. If you’ve forgotten how magical fireflies are, this chapter will remind you. Julie Simon offers easy and effective ideas for introducing children who may not have had much experience to exploring the outdoors—from beginning with an assignment to find something specific to being more self-directed as time passes and experience grows. Almost by accident, Stephanie Frigon discovered that practices associated with meditation can turn uncomfortable and potentially boring outdoor experiences into powerful, refreshing experiences. She offers clear instructions for taking children and youth through steps of object-based and walking meditation. She shares the benefits of reflection and exploring through the senses. This section of the book closes with a chapter by Ryan Brock and David Crowther about after-school nature clubs. The authors share their own experiences and that of their students, offering activity ideas and guidelines. They remind us of the irresistible attraction of animal calls; the importance of partnerships; and the benefits from involving whole families. They stress the value of students’ developing an environmental identity, calling it “one part of the way in which people form their self-concept.”

Part Four: Working for Change Through Social Action
The first chapter, by Michael Mueller, Deborah Tippins, and Lynn Bryan, introduces citizen science as a respectful and powerful way to engage children and youth, saying they “have an appropriate and significant role to play in shaping the prospects of future generations by monitoring the status of cultural and natural environments.” Katie and Chris Brkich demonstrate bringing nature and a set of related, complex issues involving free and fair trade into the classroom through role-play. Sally Scholle follows with a chapter about school gardening. She describes her successes and challenges when working with a low-income neighborhood community in creating a school garden with rich multicultural aspects. One key to success was extending personal invitations to the children’s parents to get involved. Another key was tying observations of migrating butterflies and birds to the lives of the children and their families. Bruce Martin and Andy Szolosi are eloquent champions of Expeditionary Learning (EL) and the now more than 160 EL schools in the US. They offer a description of one effective program for 7th and 8th graders that is part of the curriculum of one such school. A hallmark of the approach is combining principles developed through Outward Bound with mainstream schooling though the Harvard/Outward Bound project. Addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with engaging teens in nature-based experiences, George Ambrose offers practical, authentic, clear insights into what truly works with teens—and demonstrates how he did it as a teacher in an urban setting. Michael Tarrant’s chapter addresses connecting older adolescents and young adults to nature through study aboard programs. His concern is preparing a global citizenry—future scholars and leaders who are both ecologically literate and committed to solving multi-faceted human-environmental problems. He writes about the importance of values, awareness, appreciation, and interdependence with nature. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks introduces us to Earth Tomorrow®, the National Wildlife Federation’s multicultural, environmental-education and leadership-development program that targets creating opportunities for youth in underserved communities to develop environmental literacy and life skills. This program is a model for helping inner-city youth to become productive citizens and to improve the environmental health and welfare of their communities. If you have not considered the profound wisdom of John Dewey for a while, Kimberly Haverkos reminds us of his keen insights on child rearing. She grounds her chapter in Dewey’s claim about the importance of history as a means to cultivate relationships between children and nature. She brings the concepts to contemporary life through detailed descriptions of the power of reenactments of historical times to connect people of all ages, and certainly children, to nature in their everyday lives.

Part Five: Resources
The book ends by offering the reader examples and recommendations for additional resources. Cindi Smith-Walters, Karen Hargrove, and Hilary Hargrove provide descriptions of the kinds of field guides that are available, with recommendations for their age-appropriate favorites. For a host of additional resources, visit the Children & Nature Network’s website at

Table of Contents

Foreword: Cheryl Charles, President and CEO, Children & Nature Network
Part One: Why It Matters
Chapter One ~ Introduction: Preparing the Next Generations to Face the Future ~Michael Bentley
Chapter Two ~ Ages and Stages: Building Relationships With Nature as Children Grow ~Teresa Shume
Part Two: Developing Empathy
Chapter Three ~ “Come on Baby, Take a Walk With Me:” Fostering a Baby's Love for Nature and Parent ~Paula K. Kleintjes Neff
Chapter Four ~ Go Outside and Play! ~Darlene Maxwell
Chapter Five ~ “Kid-Scaping” Your Backyard for Nature Play ~Ken Finch
Chapter Six ~ Overcoming Critter Aversion ~Teresa Auldridge
Part Three: Exploring the Local Natural Environment
Chapter Seven ~ A Life-Shaping Week: The Outdoor Education Experience ~Nick Boutis
Chapter Eight ~ Young Naturalists at Night ~Catherine Pangan
Chapter Nine ~ Practical Strategies for Connecting Children With Nature ~Julie Simon
Chapter Ten ~ Using Guided Awareness Meditation to Connect Children With Nature ~Stephanie Frigon
Chapter Eleven ~ After School Nature Clubs: Calling Children Toward Nature ~Ryan Brock and David Crowther
Part Four: Working for Change Through Social Action
Chapter Twelve ~ The Possibilities of Today, the Promises of Tomorrow: New Directions for Citizen Science ~Michael Mueller, Deborah Tippins, and Lynn Bryan
Chapter Thirteen ~ Chocolate Choices ~Katie Brkich and Christopher Brkich
Chapter Fourteen ~ Learning From a Multicultural School Garden ~Sally Scholle
Chapter Fifteen ~ Expeditionary Learning: From Watershed to Water Faucets ~Bruce Martin and Andy Szolosi
Chapter Sixteen ~ Engaging Teens in Outdoor Learning ~George Ambrose
Chapter Seventeen ~ Nurturing a Global Citizenry Through Study Abroad ~Michael Tarrant
Chapter Eighteen ~ Fostering Environmental Stewardship in Youth of Color Through the Urban Environment: Earth Tomorrow® ~Na’Taki Osborne Jelks
Chapter Nineteen ~ Engaging Children With Nature Through Historical Reenacting ~Kimberly Haverkos
Part Five: Resources
Chapter Twenty ~ Get Up, Get Out, Find Out: Exploring Nature With Field Guides ~Cindi Smith-Walters, Karen Hargrove, and Hilary Hargrove
A List of Simple, Practical Activities
Nature Connection Pyramid
About the Editors/Authors
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