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5 ways to help kids interact with nature

Create ways for children to connect with creation at church

by Caitlyn Baird

In churches across North America, we are witnessing what journalist and author Richard Louv has famously diagnosed as “nature deficit disorder”: a generation lacking personal relationship with God’s natural creation.

More and more, kids are taught to find physical, mental and spiritual refreshment indoors and are fearful or disinterested in spending time outside. As one of the pastors working with children at North Fresno Church (NFC), I know this is an unfortunate reality for our youngest generation.

NFC is located in the center of a sprawling urban layout, within a block from traffic-congested Highway 41 and around the corner from multiple liquor stores. The few patches of grass on our campus cannot make up for the miles of concrete and asphalt that surround us. So it is no wonder the students I interact with on a weekly basis assume ministry happens in air-conditioned classrooms under florescent lighting.

What are ways we as a community and I as a pastor can create (literal) space for our children to interact with nature? Here are five suggestions from a woman living in the city:

1. Go outside. It may seem the simplest solution, but it also has some of the longest-lasting effects. A few minutes in the sunshine can help alleviate behavioral problems for some students and gives everyone the chance to breathe fresh air. Encourage Sunday school teachers to instruct in the shade of a tree. Allow Wednesday evening programs to hold recreation time on the lawn. Host church activities in your own green space or at a local park.

2. Play with natural elements. Nature does not always have to be experienced outside! Use a ‘Leave No Trace’ mentality and appropriately collect different things to bring indoors. Incorporate leaves, feathers and rocks in craft time. Use real examples when referring to natural aspects of the Bible lesson. Our preschool class remembers Jesus’ parable of the sower when they were each given a bag of dirt to squish while the teacher explained the concept of seed falling on good soil.

3. Encourage families to explore. Connect with and promote community organizations that engage individuals of all ages in a natural setting. Many local parks, schools and community centers provide opportunities to hike, bike and create in the great outdoors. Pray about ways your church can get the neighbors outside—a BBQ, a dayhike in a nearby wilderness area or playing a round of Pickleball.

4. Ask questions. Statistically, North American children spend a majority of their time under a roof, so when they go outside they may be curious about what they are sensing or experiencing. Listen to the questions they are asking and share your own thoughts about your surroundings. Nature brings with it a sense of wonder, which is not always meant to have answers.

5. Acknowledge nature is part of God’s plan. We have the awesome opportunity and privilege to connect the beauty of the outdoors with a loving Creator. From the majestic peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the tiny details on a Monarch butterfly’s wings, all of nature points to God. We need to teach our children—and remind ourselves of—the ballads of King David: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1).

Open up the classroom door, pick up a shiny pebble and allow your students to discover God in nature.

Caitlyn Baird is the associate pastor for children and family ministries at North Fresno Church, a USMB congregation in Fresno, Calif.

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