5 Ways to Connect Your Children to the Oceans

If my children do not grow up loving the sea, I will consider myself a failure.

Since before my first child was born, I prepared to teach my children about the oceans and share my passion for all things salt water:

  • While pregnant I painted a coral reef mural in what has become the playroom, trying to influence my children in the direction of tropical seas. How can you not love the tropical seas? They are the place where fish shock you with color, dazzle you with strange shapes, and invite visitors to peek in dark holes in search of octopus or eel.
  • We taught our son sign language before he could speak, and we were quite proud of his first sign: fish. My husband and I were even more proud when he could say ‘anenome’ better than most adults (before he was 2!). In fact, he could identify most common marine species at an aquarium not long after, shocking other patrons when he would identify something in the tank.

Our efforts seem to have worked—I feel confident that my 4-year old son has a passion for the sea. And I know that this passion also connects him to natural wonders on dry land. No matter where or when you start, connecting children to nature will enrich their lives.

Now, I am not just in this gig to enrich my childrens’ lives. I want something out of it too—I want them to become the caretakers of these places that I love. To respect oceans and reefs and marine creatures, to protect them and understand that this is about their lives, their fate, and that of their children.

The truth is, I don’t work to protect the environment for the environment’s sake. I work to protect it for the billions of people that require clean air, clean water and a healthy ocean to survive. It sounds cliché, but I do it for my children and their children, too.

Most kids don’t need our help to connect with nature, they just need exposure. For people that don’t live near the coast, connecting your children to the ocean can be challenging, but not impossible.

Here’s my top 5 list of things anyone can do:

  1. Visit an aquarium: Especially the touch tanks! Getting splashed at a sea lion show or holding a sea star in your hands is sure to bring squeals of delight.
  2. Visit a zoo: Most zoos at least have a marine mammal exhibit and some even have small aquariums.
  3. Visit bodies of water: Whether it is a pond, lake, or river—all water eventually makes it to the ocean. Share this with your child and talk about where the water goes when it drains from the bathtub.
  4. Read ocean books: The reading list is endless and the sea critters will blow your minds.
  5. Get outside: Everything is connected and what we do on land impacts the sea. Connecting your children to nature is the first step to connecting them to the ocean.

The next step in developing appreciation for the oceans is to get children involved in protecting it.

Almost any green choice you make will help the oceans today, and involving your children in these choices will make a difference tomorrow. Whether it’s the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), organic gardening, pesticide-free lawn care, using cloth grocery bags, eating vegetarian, biking instead of driving … everyone, even kids, can begin to take small steps. The list of ways you can help our oceans is long and each little step gets us closer to a brighter future.

I sometimes wonder if turning my son into an ocean ‘geek’ will scar him socially, but I obviously don’t worry too much about it—I’m doing it again with my 10-month-old, who just started signing…you guessed it: fish!

(Image: The marine playroom the author painted for her children. Source: Steph Wear.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Nice! I’ve been doing the same “indoctrination” with my son – hard for him to avoid since he has two marine scientists as parents. We’re also lucky enough to live in a town with a wonderful aquarium, so we go frequently. He’s been told many times (he’s 5) that he should be a docent there because he knows every critter in the place!

  2. Nice article. My two-year old often tells our friends how she went to “the quarium” and “touched a nemone” 🙂

  3. I like the article, but do not think that visiting zoos with marine mammals is a good way to educate kids on their habitat and behavior. So much can be learned on the internet and television, we do not need to subject animals to zoo captivity to learn and appreciate them. Watching Finding Nemo is a good representation 🙂

  4. Thank you for the fun post. My mantra the past several years has been: Teaching the youth good habits is far easier than asking them to break bad habits when they are older.

    Indeed, children are our future stewards, and exposing them to the natural world is not only fun, but it’s our responsibility. It’s not easy to care and protect things that we know nothing about! Education and exposure are the key to our sustainable future.

    Although I agree a trip to the zoo or aquarium is nothing like “the real deal,” for folks living far from the sea, it may be the only option. I encourage families to seek out rehabilitation centers that help injured animals as opposed to profit centered / entertainment locations. If videos are what drive you, may I suggest The Planet Earth series or other natural documentaries; Finding Nemo is not a realistic representation (though a very cute movie).

  5. What a wonderful article! To share this with more parents, I am adding a link in the January 18 issue of Parenting News, our free weekly e-zine for parents. For more on that, visit WholeHeartedParenting.com. I also suggest swimming lessons so that when a child visits the ocean he is a confident swimmer. Follow that with snorkeling lessons so that he can view what is underneath the oceans. We snorkeled with our daughter in St. John, US Virgin Islands, when she was 4 and she has vivid memories of the whole experience. She is now 13 and we are going back. She can’t wait to get in the water. We stay at Maho Bay, which is also a great experience for children in eco-tourism.

  6. Thanks for the great info on helping me connect my kids to the oceans………. Because of their size, depth, and diversity, the oceans remain mostly unexplored. Space exploration has reached beyond the galaxy, but humans are yet to understand the complexities of the oceans. Strange considering the oceans contain 97 % of the earth s free water, are home to around 400 million species, generate all catastrophic weather events, and absorb carbon dioxide.NICE WORK

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