“At the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair should be messy, and your eyes sparkling!” ~Shanti
If you’re like most people, your summer plans have been dramatically altered. Cancelled sporting events, camps, vacations, and gatherings have changed what our 2020 calendars look like. It’s a summer for the history books. But there is one thing that isn’t cancelled—NATURE! Here are a few ideas for you and your family to connect with nature.
Often, we think of nature as forests, wildlife, and lakes. We sometimes forget that nature is all the simple things—sunshine and rain, cloud gazing, and chasing fireflies. These small bits of nature are of great interest to children. Playing outside offers rich experiences, conversation starters, and questions for children to pursue.
Check out this list of items you can bring to your own backyard to create enhanced experiences outdoors and spark imaginative play!
- Add real spoons, measuring cups, and cast-off baking sheets from your kitchen to the sandbox.
- Don’t have a sandbox? A simple kiddie pool—or even an under-the-bed container can be used to make a sandbox.
- Shells, wood rounds, and pinecones that can be purchased online, from a local craft store, or collected from the beach are perfect enhancements for outdoor play.
- Rocks make great items to use for stacking and sorting, painting, or hiding!
- With a real paintbrush and a bucket of water, children can “paint” their playhouse, write their name in the driveway, or write messages to a neighbor.
- Mix up a batch of “nature soup” with some water, blades of grass, and wilted flowers.
- Cardboard boxes, sheets, and clothespins make for great building materials!
- Turn buckets and metal bins into drums by placing them upside down, and use sticks to play music and create your own band.
Here we are in the middle of July, and the temperatures are on the rise. Some days it’s 90 degrees before noon. How can families connect with nature when it’s too hot to spend long periods of time outside? Get outside early!
- Eat breakfast outside.
- Water plants and gardens first thing in the morning.
- Hit the bike trail before anyone else in your neighborhood.
- Count the animal sounds you hear—birds chirping, dogs barking, frogs croaking.
- Go on a scavenger hunt. Create a list the night before and head out to find everything on the list before breakfast.
- Gather a bucket, rags, and the hose to wash your cars.
- Raining when you wake up? Dance in the rain!
Bring the outside in!
- Small sticks, acorns, and pinecones can enhance play dough play.
- Use a broken branch with leaves or needles as a paintbrush.
- Add natural, found items to children’s indoor play.
- Feeling especially daring? Let the children make mud pies inside!
- Have a pool party in the bathtub. Who says bathtubs are just for dirty kids?
- Interested in insects or birds? Make a list including what you want to learn. Next time you are outside, start investigating.
And let’s not forget . . . freedom of movement is a huge plus for growing bodies. Pulling wagons, pushing wheelbarrows, and playing chase through the sprinkler are all examples of full-body play. Play is very important for development, as it helps children read social cues, lengthen attention span, develop executive-function skills and build confidence, as well as develop strong and healthy bodies. So, when weather cooperates, go outside!
At Kinderberry Hill, nature-based play in our certified outdoor classrooms is an important (and favorite!) part of each day. To a passerby, our outdoor classroom may simply look like children playing outside as they always have. However, what is actually happening is rich, child-centered learning. Our teachers thoughtfully and intentionally provide a variety of experiences with learning goals in mind. Additionally, we encourage children to initiate their own activities and create their own learning in an enriched, ever-changing environment all year long.
Just a few of our favorite features include: the digging gardens (full of dinosaurs, shovels, rocks, and dramatic storylines), the many mud kitchens (complete with boots, smocks, and homemade mud pies), and the canopies with curtains blowing (to shade our happily exhausted nappers).
“Stress reduction, greater physical health, a deeper sense of spirit, more creativity, a sense of play, even a safer life—these are the rewards that await a family, then it invites more nature into children’s lives.”
In these challenging times navigating the stress of a pandemic, it is important for all of us to find opportunities to disconnect from worry and stress and to just GO OUTSIDE and PLAY!