As Pagan/Druid parents, having a positive connection to nature is one of the most important things we want to foster in our children. I grew up in a time when children played outside more often (video games were a new invention and poorer kids didn’t have them yet). Kids were often set out to play outdoors on their own. The world is a much more complicated place now, and children are more closely supervised these days, and so the structure of children’s nature exploration has changed somewhat. However, the addition of (some) structure and the guidance of a parent or responsible adult is a change for the better, in my opinion.
a nature journal
One way to go about nature study is to purchase a handbook on the subject and follow the author’s guidelines. If that suits you and your child’s personality, then that may be the way to go. If, however, you have a limited amount of money to spend on books, you may want to save it for field guides, such as for tree, herbs, wildflowers, and various animals and insects, and these may even been borrowed from the library at first. (Did you know that you can suggest books for your library to purchase? Look up your library’s website, there’s usually a short form to submit suggestions.)
What is essential above other things is an unlined notebook with various writing/drawing utensils. Binoculars and a camera may prove quite useful as well. Keep your own journal also, and learn along with your child, making it a bonding experience. Some ideas for things to include are leaf rubbings, drawings, and various observations. Date your journals, and take note of the location, as your journal may be a source of very important foraging information later.
nature is sustenance
Speaking of foraging, it is a wonderful and valuable thing to teach your children which plants can be eaten (and how), which cannot, and which are poisonous to the mere touch. A good source for parents to have for edible wild foods in the Ozarks is Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook. Families that forage (and garden!), live by the seasons and have a deeper connection with Nature. You may find that your specific location has certain foods that become ready to eat around certain Pagan holidays, and you may make those foods a part of your High Day celebrations.
nature is medicine
When my kids very very young, I had the good fortune of finding Kids, Herbs & Health: A Practical Guide to Natural Remedies by Sunny Mavor and Linda White. It has been incredibly useful, and through my use of it in making medicines for them, my kids have learned the value and use of herbs and natural remedies. Other herb books that speak directly to kids are A Kid’s Herb Book by Lesley Tierra and Walking the World in Wonder: A Children’s Herbal by Ellen Evert Hopman.
a sense of place
Start close to home with your nature studies. One good project to start out with is to identify the trees in your neighborhood. After this, go on to identify other features of the land and wildlife. Culminate in making a map of the neighborhood. This kind of project cultivates a real sense of belonging and living in the natural world. While exploring the land that surrounds your home, do what you can to clean up any pollution and beautify areas that need it. (If there’s not much green space around your home, accompany your child to the nearest park.) This may be just the time to find little nature sanctuaries like a special tree with branches just right for sitting in, or discovering that magical moment of the day when the sunlight sparkles on the creek.
in community with others
You may find kids’ nature programs in your local community (or the opportunity to start one yourself). One option for learning about nature in a group setting is summer camp. Be wary of church-run camps; just because the camp is located in a beautiful natural setting, doesn’t mean the program has much to do with nature. Unfortunately, here in the bible belt, such camps heavily indoctrinate children with Christian dogma and use scare tactics. Secular camps can be a good option. Check to see if there is an Audubon Camp near you. Local botanical gardens may have day camp programs or workshops available for kids. If you think your child may like scouting, check out the (secular) Navigators USA or the (Wiccan) SpiralScouts. Druid Scouts is scouting program that may still be in the beginning (or planning) stages.
(Disclaimer: there are all kinds of personalities in this world, and thus, not all kids are inclined to go to a camp or scouting program, so be sure to listen to your child’s needs and proceed accordingly to her/his sensitivities.)
just be there
Be in the habit of being outside often. Figure out your favorite time of day for doing so. You don’t always have to have a nature journal with you. You and/or your child can take a break from writing in it for a while, if it’s tiring. A lot of serendipitous learning may come about from just being there. Find your comfortable places in Nature for hanging out and relaxing. Your child will be outside more if you are too. Unstructured play in nature is good for, and necessary to, a child’s development. If you need some kind of excuse, read the article “Tree Hugging Proven To Improve Health Issues”– do it for your health! (Check out Tree Medicine Tree Magic by Ellen Evert Hopman.)
Take the opportunity, when it arises, to relate things in nature to the lore and mythology of your family’s hearth culture. For example, you may refer to the sun by the name Sunna (if your hearth culture is Norse), and spontaneously thank her for nice sunny days. Praise Thor (or Lugh, or Zeus) for cleansing storms, and perhaps relate bits of their lore. When you see an animal in nature that has some significance in the lore, relate those stories as well. In the stillness, teach your child to sense the energy of the Spirits and be sensitive to the moods and messages they convey.
In this way, the differing threads of spirituality may be woven together into your child’s upbringing, creating a strong cord of sacredness- that may be used as a lifeline throughout the rest of his/her days.