By Gabi Falanga
These days it seems increasingly difficult to get out into nature. Towns and cities are getting bigger, swallowing up rural areas; high-pressure careers leave little time for outdoor getaways; and the technology trap sees kids spending heaps of time with their eyes glued to computer, phone or tablet screens.
According to the Child Mind Institute, it is vital for both children and adults to spend time outdoors, preferably in nature. Not only is it beneficial for mental health, but studies show that children who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive and less anxious than those who spend a lot of time indoors.
Spending time outdoors doesn’t need to involve elaborate holidays or a big garden. Even those living in a high-rise complex can foster a love for nature in their children. Here are some easy ways to do this.
Garden together: Whether you live in an apartment or a farm, gardening is a great activity for both children and adults. Digging in the soil and getting dirty are important for a child’ development. Not only that, but the teaching opportunities during gardening are huge. Allow your children to help watering the plants. They will be excited to see their plants grow, and even more so if they get to pick and eat their own spinach or tomatoes! Do some research into plants that will attract birds, bees and other insects to your garden, so that your children can learn more about these creatures. If you live in an apartment, grow plants and herbs in pots on your balcony or windowsills.
Cloud watching: Simply lying on your back in the grass – or looking through the window - and identifying shapes and patterns in the clouds is an easy and fun way to encourage your child’s imagination. You can also point out how the colour of the clouds change at different times of the time, like sunset, or when the weather changes.
Eat and sleep outside: Having picnics outside is a great way to create memories for your children that involve the outdoors. While you’re eating listen to or point out different birds and insects that you notice. Sleeping outside will be very exciting for children who normally have to go to bed when it gets dark. Create a tradition of camping in your garden. Listen to any night noises like frogs and crickets, see if you can identify the different constellations, and learn about the phases of the moon.
Arts and crafts: Being outside gives children an incredible opportunity to explore. Encourage their wonder when they bring you seed pods or dried leaves that they’ve found. Start making a collection of items like this which you can eventually use to make pictures, jewellery, mobiles or gifts – a great way to foster their creativity.
Reuse and recycle: Teaching your children about recycling will give them an appreciation of nature and an understanding of why it’s important to protect it. If your children are older, let them help pick out items in the stores that have minimal packaging. Let younger children help sort paper and plastic into separate piles to be recycled. For babies and toddlers, making toys from your recyclable trash will provide them with endless amounts of cheap entertainment, while limiting the amount of rubbish that leaves your house.
Go for walks: Going for walks or even cycling in the neighbourhood helps children get rid of that extra energy, as well as providing a change in scenery. Talk to them about what you see along the way, whether it’s a flowering rose bush, birds on the telephone wires, or a cheeky local cat.