Earth Day has passed but I’m sure during that week you heard something like this: “Every day should be Earth Day.” While I whole-heartedly agree, in order for our society to appreciate the environment on a daily basis, we need to stop thinking about the three R’s for a minute and focus on something else: spending more time outside.
Before we can worry about using less plastic, eating less meat, unplugging, turning off, reusing and carpooling, we need to feel what the earth can do for us. Sadly, we have a “what’s in it for me” mentality and if we are going to make long-term commitments to Mother Earth, we need to know how it is going to directly benefit ourselves and our kids.
I’d like to say this starts with teaching our children, but really, we can not preach these values if we are not practicing them ourselves. It’s just like anything else. We can shout if from the rooftops, but until our kids see us falling in love with nature, they will continue to get lost in the next “greatest” app or video game.
So how do we help?
Perhaps we should make “being outdoors” less of an adventure and more of a routine.
Sometimes we get so fixated on facts and figures that we forget to focus on how we personally relate to the research. Unfortunately, even though we know that smoking causes X, Y, Z … until we are personally affected or have a loved one affected, we don’t fully trust the science. The same goes for nature. It has been proven nature is not only a natural mood booster, but research also suggests schools offer more recess time each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls recess “a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.” So how do we become believers in the research? By getting outside and testing it ourselves.
Here are 11 activities to help your kids fall in love with nature:
1. Grow Something: Often when we hear this term we think of a plot of land with rich soil and dirt and rows of budding vegetables and herbs. Unfortunately, not everyone has the space for a traditional garden. But there are alternatives. Aeroponic gardening systems that can be used indoor and out, year round. (In fact, these use 90% less water than traditional gardens).
2. Picnic Time: Where does our food come from? While sitting on the ground outside, talk about how the earth helps produces the fuel for our body.
3. Sunrise and Sunset: Make it a goal to see the either the sun rise or set each day for a month. If this is too early or late for your children, that’s OK. Remember, a part of helping our kids fall in love with nature is making time for ourselves to do the same.
4. Cloud-gazing: Is your little one having an off day? Grab a blanket and lay under the sky, watching the clouds go by. Don’t forget to utilize nature’s beauty and mystical features to help clear the mind.
5. Scavenger Hunt: Find items in nature that correspond with letters of the alphabet. If you have a younger child, draw or print out pictures of pinecones, acorns, flowers, etc. (Bonus: Take the “found items” and use them to make a fairy house or critter cabin!) Another great alternative is doing a trash pick-up where the kids have to find predetermined pieces of litter.
7. Nature Walks: You don’t need a fancy trail or climb nor do you need to necessarily go far from home. While strolling, talk about the different senses and how being amongst the trees is different from being indoors or at school, etc. then put the senses to work. (The varied rock shapes, the texture of tree bark, the crunch of leaves or twigs.)
8. Book Club: Make a list with your children and brainstorm all of the silly, fun, unusual places they’d like to read outside. Taking a typical “indoor activity” beyond the four walls plants the seed that we can do just about anything in nature.
9. Memory Makers: Whether drawing pictures of what they see or writing down observations, journals are great tools for really making the experience of being outdoors stick in the memory.
10. Introduce Meditation: Also known as sitting quietly in nature. I know, you’re thinking “my kids don’t sit still,” but you’d be surprised how doing something new and different grabs their attention. Still feeling resistance? Pretend you’re a forest ranger, biologist, spy or teacher who must stay real still in order to learn about the surrounding sights and sounds.
11. Backyard Tent-out: Don’t reserve camping for sleeping outdoors! Make a habit of falling asleep to the sounds of the creatures working the night-shift.
These are all accessible, ordinary activities that most of us have done before. But the key is making them part of the regular routine. Schedule these activities into your daily planner just as you schedule meetings and other commitments until they become habit.
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