Share this page:

Sunday 23 September 2018

8 Ways To Engage Your Children With The Natural World

Engaging children with the natural world can mean so much more than just a trip to the park or an episode of Mr Bloom. But it doesn't have to cost you a week at Center Parcs either. Here are 8 low/no cost ways to encourage your children to engage with the natural world.

1. Attract wildlife to your garden

It's a delight in summer to see the flora and fauna bursting into life. Bees and butterflies hopping across bushy lavender and scented roses. Birds gossiping loudly as they flit from rooftop to rooftop. Nature has put on it's best frock and is courting you with light, colour, scent and sound. 

It's easy and agreeable then, to spend hours in the garden, spotting bugs and buds, crafting, playing with water and enjoying the weather. But it's actually as the weather turns colder that the natural world relies on us for a little support. Add bird boxes and a bird bath to your outside space. Make homemade fat balls out of kitchen leftovers to keep the birds visiting your garden. Encourage the kids to help you refill the birdseed holders and do an 'I-spy' to see how many different types of birds they recognise. Maybe make a homemade bee hotel with pieces of wood, bamboo canes, reeds or hollow plant stems (or buy one of you're not too nifty with a hammer). These rustic hidey-holes also provide shelter for spiders and other insects looking for a place to nest. 

2. Grow your own food

Grow your own carrots and I guarantee you'll wonder why you've never done it before. Besides the fact that it's infinitely cheaper to grow your own fruit and vegetables, you'll also notice a distinct difference in flavour and of course, freshness. Children can experience the end to end process of growing their own food by helping sow seeds, water and care for the developing plants and finally picking the ingredients for an evening's meal. 

And you don't even need that much space. Root vegetables can be grown in a tall bucket filled with compost. Salad leaves have shallow roots so can be grown easily in a window box or even in and around other plants in pots or borders. I've seen lots of people grow cress egg heads as a rainy day craft activity.

3. Go on an outdoor treasure hunt

There are plenty of structured ways to treasure hunt in the great outdoors: geo-caching,  rock hunting, even Pokemon Go. But it's just as easy to create your own nature trail. Write or print out a checklist with images or names of types of leaves, species of insect, breed of animal and head out on your own nature adventure ending at the 'buried treasure' - i.e. a comfy cafe with cake for the both of you (and coffee for Mum).

4. Keep a pet

Contrary to popular belief at my primary school. I didn't grow up on a farm. But we did keep chickens, and ducks at some point. And there were geese, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, a hamster, fish and briefly, a sheep (we were looking after it for a friend).

Pets are a great way to encourage compassion and instil a sense of responsibility. However, let's not be naive here. My dad remembers well, the little fluffy bunny rabbits we brought home that time, because they were sooooo cuuuute, and I was absolutely going to help look after them and all that. Except I got bored pretty quickly and the poor bunnies were soon sold on to a much more deserving and attentive family.

Start small and consider the age of your children. Maybe all that's needed is for them to help you feed the fish once a day. Even a task as small as this could increase their understanding of how dependent animals are on us and how the responsibility lies with us to ensure their survival.

5. Visit the Natural History Museum

Failing that, if you don't live anywhere near London and/or have a tube-phobia, then why not try the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid Wales, which overlooks the Snowdonia National Park. Learn about renewable energy, sustainable household living, and ride the amazing water-balanced cliff railway. There's also the Nature Discovery Centre near Thatcham in Berkshire or the Butterfly Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon. For more ideas about family days out in the UK, try the National Trust website.

6. Let them get dirty

It's sounds simple because it is. Let them dig, make mud cakes, discover worms and other creepy crawlies. Let them water the plants and get soaking wet. Let them crawl through bushes and climb trees (under your keen eye, of course). 

7. Go to the seaside

When the word 'nature' is mentioned, many people automatically think of gardens and woodland, but the seaside can be a brilliant place to discover the aquatic side of nature. Grab a cheap net and bucket and head down onto the rocks to do some rock-pooling. Hunt for starfish, crabs and shrimp. Poke amongst the seaweed, lift a rock and see what rushes out from underneath. 

I have very fond memories of catching shrimp in rock pools during childhood camping holidays. We'd take them back to the camper van, drop them in a pan of boiling water for a few mins, then delight in peeling off their shells and feasting on the fresh, pink and salty meat. Delicious!

You could even try crabbing with a crab line from the pier, go deep sea mackerel fishing or sneak in some observations about the crucial work of the coastguard.

8. Got to a country show

I've been going to country shows, steam shows, county shows and agricultural shows since before I could walk. In my opinion, they form a really important link between rural and farming communities (the human side of the natural world) and, well, everybody else. It's only when you venture to these events that you really realise what it's all about, just how much work goes into managing livestock or producing food. And besides all the important stuff, there's also something so pleasantly rustic and simple about fresh air tinged with the smell of steam, the feel of ash settling on your skin, the luscious scent of donuts and the plinky-plonky music of the fair and the pipe organ vans. I could give you a dozen reasons to go, like cow's eyelashes batting away sun-drunk insects, pygmy goats in pens and boys in smart white coats parading fat, pink pigs around on the grass. 

Prize-winning carrots, animals characters made out of vegetables and homemade damson gin. Cakes from the Women's Institute and spicy paella from the food shed. Ice cream and sunshine and bales of hay. Artisan sausage rolls, craft beers, oodles of fudge, bags of marshmallows and happy, sticky faces. Silver jewellery, honey, bees and balloons. Hand-sewn aprons and teddies and knitted baby booties. Independent engines 'tick-ticking' and 'phut-phutting' as the cogs turn and the pistons pump. Dare-devil motorcycle riders, stunt horse riders and herds of ducks. Classic cars, vintage lorries and fire engines gleaming in the sun. 

Like a scene right out of Midsummer Murders, except without the murder. Hopefully.

This post was featured on


Mission Mindfulness


  1. YES to letting them get dirty!!! So many kids dont get that chance! #triumphanttales

  2. What a lovely post. Reminds me so much of my childhood, and is exactly the sort of childhood I hope we can give our son.

  3. What a lovely post. It reminds me a lot of my childhood, and is the sort of childhood we’d like to provide for our young son.

  4. These are some great ideas and I'm so pleased to say that we have done lots of them, especially the rock hunting. My Little Man got really into that this Summer. Thanks for sharing with #TriumphantTales.

  5. #thesatsesh yes yes and yes to getting outside and exploring. We have just started growing veg and I'm really enjoying the grounded-ness it gives me (if that makes any sense), dirt in your fingers is also good for the soul I think - and much healthier. Thanks for making the effort to join us.

  6. Lovely post! Thank you for sharing. I like to do lots of these activities with my nanny kids. We often do planting together and encourage the birds to come into the garden. A favourite of mine is just getting lovely and mucky!
    Nanny M x

  7. Love these ideas!