Naturalists in the Making

We need to encourage more kids to become naturalists. Countless studies and reports lament the decline in time kids spend outdoors. To spare you depressing numbers, the trend is awful.

Elijah, age 5 looking for Blue Jays in front of a huge pollinator box

But we like to rely on hope that this won’t always be the case. We can encourage kids to explore outside more.

We can help them become naturalists.

A naturalist is simply a person who dedicates their life to learning and understanding the natural world. Unlike those who simply enjoy being outdoors (which is still great), naturalists thirst for discoveries and knowledge. They seek to make connections through observations, the whole time building a strong understanding of the natural world.

But like much of what we learn, the process of becoming a naturalist is what’s fun and exciting. As long as you are participating in the study of nature, you are a naturalist.

Wee Naturalists Program
Read about my 5-year old’s experience in the Wee Naturalist program, hosted by the University of Illinois Extension Office.

Of course, their are varying degrees of naturalists, much like athletes, musicians, literary scholars, etc. Your abilities as a naturalist depend largely on time and knowledge. The more time you spend in nature and the more knowledge you gain studying books and other naturists, the farther you will go as a naturalist.

You can begin at any age, but starting young, around ages 3-5, makes it easier to form the foundation of a lifetime love of nature. Kids have open minds, less bias, and the desire to explore everything.

Tips for Improving Your Abilities as a Naturalist

Spend More Time Exploring – The sheer amount of hours you spend in the field correlates directly to how much knowledge you can amass. Nature is everywhere, so even walks around the neighborhood are opportunities of discovery. Of course, the more diverse habitats and variety of landscapes you can visit the better. On your explorations…

Observe Every Detail – Spend the time to turn over rocks and logs or wade into a creek or stream. Use all your senses to absorb what’s around you. When you find something interesting, examine it as thoroughly as you can. And always…

Ask Lots of Questions – Why is that bird perched on that tree limb? Why did the forest suddenly get quiet? What season and in what habitat would you likely find a salamander? Questions can be discussed in the field and so you don’t forget your observations…

Take Field Notes – Writing down your observations, thoughts and questions will not only help you remember them later but will help you better understand now. Keeping field notes enables you to record information that helps build a bigger picture for that day, but also beyond. Weather, habitat, time of day, season, etc. all play a part in the dynamic natural world. You can then take your notes and…

Read Natural History Books – Purchase or check out from your library some of the hundreds of fascinating books about the natural world. By studying these at home and researching your questions, you can continue to learn and build a database of knowledge, greatly improving your skills as a naturalist. To truly become an expert naturalist, you can…

Never Stop Learning

Recommended Reads

Richard Louv is dedicated to encouraging parents to get their kids outside and into nature. These three books are essential to anyone who mentors a young naturalist. We reviewed each of these books.

Last Child in The Woods – a Field Guide to Erasing Nature Deficit Disorder

The Nature Principle – the companion to the above book with more of the adult focus on incorporating nature in our everyday lives.

Vitamin N – a great way to quickly grab new ideas or enhance current ideas of incorporating “vitamin N” (nature) into our lives. Focuses on another important “N”, networks: family, friends, and community not to mention online networks.