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As parents, we know how challenging it can be to get your kids to put down the electronics and go outside. So many things keep us indoors, including our fears and our over-scheduled lives. But we also know how important it is to carve out time to be in nature. Why? Because children are more likely to experiment and engage in creative play when they’re outdoors. They’re also more able to concentrate, notice change, and feel connected to the larger world.
In a recent study, we found that while most kids say they care about the environment, their perspectives are often limited. They understand, for example, that not recycling can have a negative impact, but they can’t explain why. Most kids don’t understand that factors “far away” can affect their own homes and neighborhood. They do understand that different species depend on each other for food, but they don’t know that humans, animals and plants all share, and need, the same water. Interestingly, the vast majority of kids say that they enjoy being outside, riding bikes and scooters especially, but only a small number report that they like to engage in “nature activities.”
We’ve found that small efforts made each day or week can help spark kids’ curiosity in the natural world and get them excited about taking care of it. Here are some ways we’ve worked environmental science activities into our families’ routines:
Walk and talk: Take a stroll and talk about the plants and animals that live in your neighborhood. Where do the squirrels find food? Where do they sleep? How far do a tree's roots reach? Let your kids not only ask the questions but try to answer them. Kids love to share their ideas with grownups and it can give them a special thrill to think they know something that you don't!
Start a family field book: Something as simple as a spiral notebook from the dollar store is a great place to record and share what you notice about nature. Have your kids decorate and name it and keep it in a common area so everyone can make entries.
Don't be afraid of the weather: Rainy or snowy day? No worries! Just grab an umbrella or bundle up and get outside with your kids. On rainy days, look at sidewalks for earthworms or slugs. Roll over rocks and logs to see what’s living underneath.
As producers of children’s media at WGBH, we want to share this message with lots of kids and families. Our aim is to use the power of media to present nature, both visually and emotionally, for what it is: a place where you can test yourself and be yourself; a place that allows you to think, be quiet, be active, imagine, and create - a place from which you can draw strength and gain comfort. Nature gives us so much and it’s up to us, all of us, to understand it and take care of it. That’s the basis of our vision for PLUM LANDING.
PLUM LANDING is a brand new PBS KIDS digital project featuring animated webisodes, online games, science activities and live-action videos that show kids why their actions matter. It connects 6- to 9-year-olds to nature, teaches them about ecosystems, and gets them pumped up about their role as caretakers of the planet.
PLUM LANDING stars a curious alien named Plum, who sends her five earthling friends on missions as diverse as ‘find a lake in the desert!’ and ‘search for a cow that lives under water!’ Through her friends’ eyes—and ears and noses—Plum discovers many fascinating, puzzling and profound things about our gorgeously diverse planet. Plum also encourages kids to investigate their OWN worlds closer to home—I mean, why veg on the couch when you can be outside doing something fantastic?
With all the media projects we have produced, we have seen time and again that when kids watch engaging and stimulating videos and play rich, interactive games—ones that leave them with specific ideas for doing—they are inspired to read, write, create, invent and experiment. We hope that PLUM LANDING will motivate your kids to go outside and get their hands dirty.
For more tips on getting outdoors (and sneaking in some science, too), click here.
We’d love to hear what you think of the site. Please also share with us the ways that you get your family outside. What works? And why do you think it’s important to teach kids about nature?