Kids and adults are spending less and less time outdoors, and more time plugged in to digital, virtual entertainment. It’s no wonder then that this increase in screen time has distanced us from the natural world and how we relate to it.
Increasing evidence demonstrates the benefits a connection to nature has on children’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Some of these include reduced physical and emotional stress, greater physical health, increased use of senses, enhanced creativity, improved concentration, and an increased desire to nurture their natural surrounds.
Nature offers a place where children can imagine, dream, create, and be themselves.
Nature is innately stimulating and offers something that video games try to replicate but cannot replace. Furthermore, the natural world offers a fun and exciting way for families to spend time together, and become Healthy, Active and Happy in the process.
Getting back to nature does not mean marching into the nearest outdoors store and spending your month’s wages on expensive camping equipment. Nor does it mean driving for hours endlessly hearing “Are we there yet?”
What I’m referring to can be found, quite literally, in your own backyard.
While you might see a lawn that needs to be mowed, or clothes that need to be taken off the line, a child has the potential to see an entire universe.
Start simply by getting down at ground level and looking at the world around you from their eyes. How many types of insects do you see? How many colours can you count? Ask them, What do you see?
Share in their awe at the simplest things even if you’ve seen them a million times before. And, even if you think you know, try to find something new in the familiar. When children sense this, they will want to mirror that curiosity.
As role models, we have a wonderful opportunity and responsibility to empower children in our care to make healthy choices, and the most effective way that to do that is to lead by example.
Remember, small changes ripple outwards. So do not push the panic button, just KISS (Keep it Simple Silly!).
Go to the creek to skip rocks, count worms after rain, catch tadpoles from the local stream, turn on the porch lights and watch the insects gather, watch ants march along carrying the tiniest of crumbs on their backs, jump on crunchy autumn leaves or collect stones and shells.
In his book Last Child in The Woods, bestselling author Richard Louv outlines way to encourage adults and kids to spend more time outside. Here are 10 of my favourites:
- Reading about nature is a great way to revive a sense of the outside world. Start a new tradition where Nature Night means reading a bedtime story about the natural world. Here are some great books to read.
- Create a picture book or diary about the day’s adventures and let both your imaginations run wild. Where were the ants going? What were they doing? What would they say if they could talk? Check out these great online Storybook Creators for kids.
- Go on an adventure with Geocaching, a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.
- Make jewellery and gifts out of natural products – think daisy chains, a flower head wreath and cards with pressed flowers.
- Get wet and wild. Borrow a friend’s fishing gear, hire a canoe, race leaves down a stream, throw pebbles, catch tadpoles or go for a bushwalk – a little mud won’t hurt you.
- Build a sandpit – it’s cheap and fun to play in and allows children to be creative.
- Attract local birdlife by planting native trees or shrubs in your garden. They not only attract local wildlife but also use less water. As Planet Ark believes, ‘Every day is Tree Day’.
- Create your own weather station by making a rain gauge, wind vane, or a weather diary with these easy tips.
- Build a tree house. Check out this amazing guide by Bunnings- http://www.bunnings.com.au/diy-advice/family-craft/kids/how-to-build-a-treehouse
- Keep a nature journal and encourage your child to describe in words and pictures what they saw or imagined. Nature journaling allows us to slow down, connect, pay attention to and appreciate our natural surrounds and it’s inhabitants. Here’s one to get you started.
If all the above scares you, just make sure you always have a first aid kit nearby and just have FUN!