By Lindsay Seventko, Communications Intern

Boy playing in fall leaves
Credit: Scott Webb via Unsplash.

Parents and educators often struggle to get kids to engage in, let alone enjoy, school work. Concerns are often raised that today’s youngest generation will be more out of touch with the natural world than any generation before them, with an unprecedented amount of time being spent indoors and staring at screens. Now more than ever, it’s important for kids to play in, and learn about, our forests and the great outdoors. Here are some tips for getting your kids excited to learn about science and nature, and raising the next generation of scientists, philosophers and entrepreneurs who are excited about understanding and protecting forests.

Answer Their Questions

Kids want to learn; they’re naturally curious and questioning. Just ask any parent who is barraged by questions day in and day out. Oftentimes, this doesn’t translate into classroom engagement and participation, where the ideas being taught can seem so far removed from their actual lives and experiences. To encourage passionate learning in and out of the classroom, start indulging all those hard questions about why things are the way they are and where things come from. Tell them what you know and encourage them research it more on kid-friendly educational websites or at the local library.

Use What’s Right around You

Everything you experience throughout the day is an opportunity to encourage learning. Does your child love jumping in a pile of leaves in the fall? Use it as a way to talk about seasons, photosynthesis, decomposition and soils. Do you collect pretty pinecones on your walks? You can talk about how cool the Fibonacci sequence is. Do you stare at the clouds and look for interesting shapes? You can also identify the different types of clouds, talk about the different layers of the atmosphere.

Turning everyday experiences in nature into learning opportunities in this way doesn’t mean losing the fun. Keep your informative tidbits interesting and relevant, and let your child’s natural curiosity encourage them to learn more. If you’re stargazing, mention how the universe is constantly expanding, and how they could be the first person to explore Mars or some other planet we haven’t even thought about yet. Or, if they find a cool bug on the playground, you can mention that there are still new insects being discovered every day around the world, and they can grow up to have a job focused on finding cool new bugs.

Ask Questions Yourself

If you feel overwhelmed by your child’s questions, don’t worry. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers! Even if you do know the answer, ask some open-ended questions to guide them in using their observations and knowledge and come to their own conclusions, or help them find books about the topic and learn about it together! In the end, you don’t need to be a teacher 24/7, just allow and encourage your child’s curiosity to flourish. In this way, you’ll inspire the next generation to understand, appreciate and question what we know about nature, and to find solutions beyond what we can currently think of.