With most camps closed, swimming pools closed, and resorts closed due to the new coronavirus pandemic, there is one often overlooked option that remains available to children this summer: nature.
And while this is great news for kids who love nature, it is problematic for kids who are afraid of insects, who are afraid of getting dirty or bored with trees, trails and rocks – or simply for those who prefer to stay indoors all day with video games.
There are many reasons why nature is good for children, including physical (movement, low blood pressure) and mental (people feel better by spending time in nature). And now, in hot weather and without school, it’s the perfect time to take the kids out. You just need to figure out how to attract them there.
Give them their own space
Jennifer Gulizia, flower farmer and blogger in Hood River, Oregon, dug a small space on the family’s flower farm for her 5-year-old daughter to grow and cut flowers. Gulizia suggested giving the kids some space in the yard or garden so they can call their own. It could even be an indoor pot just to get them used to nature (and possibly move them outside). Add some seeds, and it’s a mini garden. This allows children to get used to smelling of dirt, to learn more about flowers and to understand that nothing is scary or something to avoid.
Play with insects and worms
“We have a worm farm and an ant farm,” said Elle Meager, Australian founder of Outdoor Happens, a blog that helps people create little natural paradises in their backyards. “Most children are intrigued by all the wiggling worms.” Meager said playing with insects and worms is fun for children and can be more attractive to them than persuading them to hike. Her children love to dig the earth to find worms – especially after it rains.
Let them be in disorder
Kids need to be able to explore freely in nature, and it’s not always pretty, and it’s not always the best thing for nature itself, said Victoria Hilton, founder and CEO of Stepping Stones Chicago Nursery School . She said it was good to let the kids pick flowers and sometimes take a walk in the garden. “Sometimes overprotection of natural things can cause children to fear interacting with nature itself.”.. Children should be allowed to get dirty and explore, and even if they were to learn to be nature-friendly, they should also experiment, said Hilton. Even running in the grass to catch a firefly is a classic way to play in the wild and learn how amazing and fascinating it can be (and it offers an opportunity to teach children why fireflies shine).
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Go bigger – or smaller
Simply walking in a forest and expecting children to find a love of the outdoors for themselves is not realistic for most children who are used to constant stimulation, said Nick Wilkesmann, director of education outside Haileybury Rendall School in Australia. Try renting mountain bikes, kayaks, surfboards, or other toys that you can use to make the weather more interesting outside. Parents, on the other hand, may be tempted to bow completely with a camping trip or a long hike,. But this may be too much for some children, so think about your own child before choosing your adventure.
If your child is not ready for a full immersion in the forest, go slow, said Jenn Wisegarver, who runs a private home day care and advocates for Illinois forestry schools. “Provide a bowl of potting soil to play the truck on a bath curtain or tarp,” she said. Or let them play with insect toys, then show them insect picture books. Teach them the parts of an insect and let them marvel at their functions. (For example, a spider’s spinnerets can make a delicate sack of eggs for their babies.) Then go explore these insects outside.
Capitalize on food
Get your kids involved in planting foods they like to eat or things you would like them to try, said Meager. “My kids love strawberries, so they planted strawberries and they check them every day,” she said. They will learn that their food does not grow in the supermarket and may appreciate it even more. Also, if they have planted their own fruits and vegetables, they will be more likely to eat them. Start by buying seeds from them; this can also be done online. “When the seeds arrive, they are their responsibility,” said Meager. “They plant them, water them and take care of them from seed to harvest.” This can be done even without a yard by taking care of the potted plants.
Create a nature themed treasure hunt
Write down things your kids can find outside – or draw pictures if they can’t read yet, said Marybeth Hamilton, a Minnesota-based blogger and mother of two. The best part of a treasure hunt is the fact that kids can do it with their eyes if they prefer not to engage their other senses, said Hamilton. Translation: It is perfect for children who are not yet ready to touch nature.
Turn nature into a game
Kristi Mason, a Los Angeles-based celebrity nanny, has said that she likes to install an “American Ninja Warrior” in the garden. First, she sits down with the children to discuss the type of barriers they want. Once there is a realistic game plan, start working with the children. “Having them create and build the obstacle course will provide a lot of excitement, but also a sense of accomplishment,” said Mason. Once they master the course, use a timer and they can become competitive.
Live by example
If you tell the kids to go out and play, but they don’t see you doing it, they’ll be less likely to get out of the house, said Mason. “If they see their parents or guardians sitting inside a frantic television eating Cheetos, they will most likely imitate this behavior,” she said.