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Get Dirty! Nature Appreciation for the Young Child

Exploring the world is not only natural for young children, but also essential. Fostering a sense of respect and appreciation for nature when children are young, is key to keeping this world healthy and happy. Take these words of wisdom from the famous environmentalist Rachel Carson, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

On a brisk fall morning about a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend PAEYC’s UnConference: Get Dirty! at the Frick Environmental Center. PAEYC (Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children) offers many professional development opportunities to help educators and parents provide the best possible educational, health, social and economic opportunities for young children. The goal of this particular UnConference, was to celebrate the joy of nature while learning new ways to educate young children about the natural world. Workshops included mud painting, seed bomb making, gardening with kids and much more. Presented by local organizations, Grow Pittsburgh: Edible Schoolyard, Allegheny Land Trust, Righteous Beginnings and Farm School, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the scope of nature programming was colorful and abundant!

A tour of the brand new Frick Environmental Center, a “LEED Platinum” and “International Living Future Institute’s Living Building” certified building, was also part of the day’s events. To learn more about this amazing building, check out their website, take an interactive online tour and then plan a visit!

 Frick Environmental Center and outdoor amphitheater. Photo credit: Jeremy Marshall
The new Frick Environmental Center and outdoor amphitheater. Photo credit: Jeremy Marshall


Nature activities for young children can be simple lessons aimed at engaging all of the senses. Going for a leaf scavenger hunt, mud painting and dancing like a plant are fun activities that don’t require a huge amount of preparation, materials or funds. Going outside (even in the rain!) and allowing kids to explore and get dirty is one of the best things you can offer a curious child. Check out Asia Citro’s book, A Little Bit of Dirt : 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature, for more great nature-themed ideas.

The world is full of teachable moments and exploring nature is a wonderful way to engage children in a sensory experience that will last a lifetime.

Cover of the book, A Little Bit of Dirt

Jessica is a Children’s Specialist at CLP – Squirrel Hill. An avid reader of all things Moomin, Jessica also enjoys beekeeping, biking and digging in the dirt.

Get down and dirty while exploring the natural world! Check out these great books for more nature-themed activities.

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