Some of my earliest memories of interacting with nature were from when my family took me to my local nature center. I credit these early experiences with sparking my passion and interest in the natural world, which lead me down the environmental science path I am on today. There are many nature centers around communities that are easy to access. I believe nature centers are integral to the development of a child’s sense of place in the environment and to spark the appreciation of the world around them.
Nature centers are a hot spot for hands-on discovery and one-on-one interactions with the environment. When a child visits a nature center for the first time, it is often the first experience with local plants and animals. I’ve witnessed myself the looks of awe and wonder on kids’ faces as they touch a lizard for the first time, watch tadpoles swim in a tank, or smell native flowers. It’s their time to ask questions and have them answered accurately, and hopefully that stirs interest and fascination in them.
Children can learn important life concepts at nature centers such as life and death, care of animals, and learning how to take care of the environment. It shows them that there is more to life than just themselves and that their actions and choices have effects and consequences. It also can spark an appreciation for learning and a desire to understand how the world operates.
Nature centers are often placed around hiking trails, so I encourage you to take your children with you on them so they can make the connections between learning about the natural world in the nature center to seeing those things in real life. Try to point out plants or animals they learned about before setting off on the trail, and watch their excitement, as they are able to identify what it is! Another benefit of nature centers is that it also teaches what animals and plants in the area are harmful and how to avoid them. This is especially important in areas with potentially deadly animals such as rattlesnakes and black widows; it teaches children to respect those animals but not to approach or touch them.
Overall, children only benefit by visiting their local nature center. Make visiting your local nature center a day trip and teach your children about the natural world that can be found in your own backyard!