Street Smarts: 5 Simple Ways For Kids To Experience Nature In The City

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In this era of armchair diagnostics and Google MD, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that a term has been coined to describe the ever-increasing gulf between children and the natural world. “Nature deficit disorder” a term first used by Richard Louv in his book Last Child In The Woods, perfectly encompasses this state of this latest screen-obsessed, fresh-air-averse generation.

The obvious solution to this “disorder” is to pitch kids into the forest – but what if their lives are less filled with forests and more concerned with concrete jungles? How do you bring nature back to city kids, and how do you re-incorporate wildness into urban lives?


Here are five fabulous ideas to get you started:

Henry Moore at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Henry Moore at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Image courtesy of JR P.

1. Seek out the centers. Nature centers, botanical gardens – even a large greenhouse would do in a pinch, but basically anywhere your child can be immersed in the sights, smells, and pure air of hundreds of plants. There’s something inherently good about being amidst plant life like this, even if you don’t believe the nature deficit disorder mumbo jumbo. And if you do?

Studies are emerging to back you up and indicate that being around plants reduces stress, improves concentration, and increases compassion. Even if your little ones visit these places just once or twice a month they will be a welcome respite from cold sidewalks and glass skyscrapers.

2. Pick pockets. It’s not just hippies – city planners have long recognized the value of natural spaces and as a result most large cities have made an effort to claim some green space in the midst of the downtown hustle and bustle – think Central Park in New York City or Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada. Even if you don’t live in The Big Apple, researching where these little pockets of green live in your city means you and your kids can pick dandelions and feel the grass tickle their feet even if you don’t have a backyard of your own.

Grant Park

Image courtesy of Tyler Sichelski.


3. Take it outside. Getting back into nature doesn’t have to be a big, complicated planned outing. Use what you have! If you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard, even a tiny one, use it! Eat at the picnic table, or set up a pup-tent for outdoor overnights. If you are stuck with just a balcony or patio, bring as much of the natural world into it as possible, plants, hanging baskets, a bird feeder anything that will help your child connect to the world beyond the bars.

4. Bring it on in. Take your kids outside as much as possible, but also try to bring the outdoors in for those days when a visit to the botanical gardens or a backyard campout just aren’t going to happen (and let’s be honest…some weeks those days are every day). House plants that the kids are responsible for watering, a small pet, and even a goldfish can breathe life into a staid apartment, and bring no end of fascination for young minds. Any small way to observe the intricacies of the natural world has the potential to be amazingly beneficial.

5. Rethink movie night. Instead of wading through the latest cartoon offerings trying to parse the appropriate from the borderline inappropriate (Mature double entendres! Archaic gender constructs! Cartoon violence!) think about clicking over to the documentary genre instead.

Children like adults, are naturally fascinated by the world around them, and watching a documentary won’t seem at all dry – on the contrary! Learning about life in the depths of the ocean, or in the heart of the wilds of Africa may just spark a lifelong interest in biology, animal care, or even climate change and conservation. Give your kids a chance to satisfy curiosity about our environment, even if they can’t get their hands on as much of it as they’d like.


Feature image courtesy of Christopher

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Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.

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