Puddle-stompers ©Tracey Byrne
Ant-lover E. O. Wilson coined the term: biophilia is the instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems; it has been described as a mystical feeling of both being separate and a part of the whole. Naturalist and educator David Sobel writes that biophilia nurtures a sense of wonder and delight, and this experience provides the empathy and foundation for a life of caring about the natural world.
It is a bit of a sore spot with me, that everyone seems to have heard of "nature-deficit disorder" but are unfamiliar with "biophilia". David Louv has pathologized the lack of biophilia, which makes me cranky. We already have so many ways to label our children's challenges. I prefer to encourage my friends and family to nurture biophilia in their children, rather than to treat them for "nature-deficit disorder".
Of course, it helps to have lots of "loose parts" around for kids to build and experiment with, like in a sandbox or with rocks, and sticks and chunks of wood. Kids also need to dig holes and to play in water-so all of these things are good places to start if you've got little ones. Older kids could have fun exploring the wild patches in the alleys, pocket parks, and parking strips, and can be encouraged to do a bug or bird count. Ask them to find out which bugs visit which plants, and also if they can spot the different kinds of native bees and honeybees visiting flowers.
Garden: inside: make sprouts! outside: give your kids a little plot of earth or a couple containers to plant a garden in (but it needs to have good rich soil to start with or they will be discouraged!), and go on a trip to a nursery to choose seed packets together. If there is a tree, let them climb it, and if it's big enough for a tire swing (that will keep them busy for hours). Forts are awesome, but a tent or teepee also makes a special hiding place. A sheet or tarp strung off a fence or hung over a clothesline (or two chairs) creates an instant shady and cozy space.
Sprinkler? turn it on, and don't forget to have buckets and squirt-guns available.
I would also have on hand some scientific tools: a magnifying glass, binoculars, and a clear jar that can serve as a bug keeper. (Sprout jars are nice as they have different size breathing holes).
Toys to get them started being physical: sidewalk chalk, jump-ropes, hopscotch, and my favorite: hula hoops.
Biophilia goes hand-in-hand with my other passion: Bibliophilia!
I recommend the "Fun with Nature" take-along guides by North Word Press in Minnesota, there are 12 of these books, and all are full of facts and awesome activities. Artist/naturalist Claire Leslie Walker's book, "Nature All Year Long" is also a favorite, and has seasonal projects (and might inspire some nature journaling). My daughter loved the Golden Field Guides, and actually wore them out! The "One Small Square" books by Silver & Wynne are also good, as they get kids looking closer: explore, dig, look, observe and investigate every inch of each small square of habitat.
The UW Arboretum gift shop has a small but quality selection of children's nature books for sale, as does Seward Park's Audubon Center, and you can also find these titles at the University Bookstore. You might want to head over to the UW Horticultural Gardens for a wetland walk and visit the Story Program at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library too.
Thank you for asking~