No-one will protect what they don't care about and no-one will care about what they have never experienced.
—Sir David Attenborough
A connection to the natural world is a gift you can give to your child that is free and lifelong. This connection will help a child feel more at ease in nature, leading to more enjoyment of the outdoors and, consequently, more time spent in the outdoors.
So when is the best time to start fostering a love for and fascination with the natural world? No time is too soon and certainly, early childhood is ideal. This a crucial time in a child's life, shaping a child's values and attitudes for years to come.
In fact, researchers who have looked at the connection between experiences in nature and a child's attitude toward nature have found that regular positive interactions within nature help children develop respect for and a caring attitude toward the environment. The evidence is so strong that researchers in this area say that developing children's empathy with the natural world should be the main objective for children ages four through seven.
We need to give them (children) time outdoors, where they can meet and savor the world that humans have not made — pill bugs on a sidewalk, a swarm of tadpoles in a puddle, a tree for climbing, a sky aflame with sunset, a kiss of wind.
— Scott Russell Sanders
And experts tell us that kids who grow up with a connection to the natural world are more likely to be passionate about conservation in their own lives, finding that nature can play a key role in the development of pro-environmental behavior in children, particularly by fostering an emotional connection to nature.
Such a nature connection follows kids through adulthood. Studies have shown that spending time in natural areas as a child leads to pro-environmental attitudes, a feeling of being connected with the natural world, and a stronger sense of place as an adult.
As a society, we should care about nature deficit disorder. We should understand that children who have a connection to nature are more likely to advocate to protect it as adults. And we should do something about it. That could mean ensuring our communities have green play areas, our school value outdoor time in the school day and nature-based learning.
The good news is that you don't have to overthink nature-based activities or scan pinterest for the most eye-popping printables. Just watching adults, both parents and teachers, who model the enjoyment of, comfort with, and respect for nature influences a child's connection to the natural world.
So go outdoors with your child, explore the natural world with curiosity and fascination on your own. And do it often.