Nowadays, with screen time at all-time high and kids spending much of their free time indoors, growing our kids’ appreciation for nature is more important than ever.

Children who spend more time outside are just plain healthier. And if we want them to care about the environment and do their part to preserve the world, they first have to experience it — even fall in love with it.

I remember spending hours at a time outside: building the main street of a town out of dirt and rocks in our front yard, jumping in the puddles in the driveway after a rainstorm and lying in the grass staring at the clouds moving by. Not so today.

One study suggests that even the books our kids read lack the same connection to nature that they used to. Especially in the winter, kids can easily go days without spending more than five minutes outside.

So how do we foster our kids’ love and appreciation for the outdoors? Read on for some tips.

Garden with your kids.

Here in Florida, gardening is a year-round sport. Although I’d sometimes rather be inside in my air-conditioned house sipping coffee, my kids love any excuse to get down and dirty. Kid-sized gloves and shovels make the process even more fun (and save me from having to clean dirt out from under everyone’s fingernails afterward). If your ground isn't quite ready yet, why not grab some seeds, a planter and soil to get your kids into an indoor garden? You can go to your local nursery for recommendations on the best plants to grow indoors. Be sure to bring your kids with you to get them involved, and invested, in the process.

Make outdoor time an integral part of family vacations.

Next time you all have a day off from school, why not go on a family hike instead of seeing the latest flick? If you’re motivated, take the family on a camping trip instead of a regular hotel. It’s less expensive and you don’t have to worry about bed bugs (though other critters might be a different story). You can even do a campout in your own backyard, a great idea if your kids are still too little for the real deal. While you’re at it, you can work on their outdoor survival skills.

Recognize teachable moments.

Every time you’re outside with your kids — on the way to the grocery store, getting the mail or even just heading to the car — be sure to talk about being outside (and not something negative like “I hate this weather”). Comment on the shape of the clouds, the caterpillar making his way up the mailbox pole or the snow looking like a white blanket on your lawn. If you can get into the habit of doing this, it’ll help your kids be more cognizant and appreciative of the simple beauty of the world around them.

Play outside every day.

This one is probably the most important. You don’t have to take your kids all the way to a park. The backyard or front stoop will do just fine, or even just go for a walk. If you’ve got a toddler, let him lead the way (as long as it’s not into oncoming traffic). Toddlers have an innate sense of wonder at the world around them. Watch them stoop down to look more closely at ants building an anthill on the sidewalk or a caterpillar on a leaf. Bend down and peer with them. You’ll be surprised at just how many details they notice.

Just like plants, kids need sunlight and fresh air to grow. For every moment they’re spending outside, your kids are growing healthier bodies, positive habits and clearer, calmer minds.

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