Research tells us that human values and behaviors are driven more by emotion than intellect, so this suggests that the most powerful interactions with nature have more to do with a child’s heart than his/her head. This is best served by authentic experiences with nature: direct, hands-on, sensory explorations. The scale can be tiny, since to a child’s eyes even a vacant lot can be a wilderness. But to really be meaningful, the child must be directing engaged with real nature – whether it be climbing trees, digging a hole to China, tending a garden, or catching fireflies and rolly-pollies. In addition to this authentic interaction, children’s experiences with nature are most powerful when they are child-directed. That is, when the children decide what to do, what to explore, and how long to stay at it. This way, they take ownership of the interaction more than if their outdoor activities are strictly directed and controlled by adults whose agendas – although undoubtedly well-intended – may not match up with the children’s own desires and interests. Finally, frequency is an important component of children’s nature experiences. Once-a-year family vacations to spectacular national parks are great for everyone, but there is more bonding power to be found in daily and weekly nature explorations – even if only in the backyard, a tiny neighborhood creek, or a vacant lot or two. These repeated experiences foster a true sense of place – a deep familiarity with the land that is part of the children’s daily existence.
– Ken Finch, in “Making the Case for Nature Play: An Interview with Ken Finch,” ConserveLand.org (2013)