Instilling a sense of wonder and exploration in our children is something all parents strive for, but exactly how often do you let your children engage with wildlife?
Fewer than one in ten children regularly play in wild places; compared to almost half a generation ago. This statistic is concerning because the benefits of natural play and learning environments have been well documented in various studies over the years.
Benefits that include: reduced childhood obesity, increased lifespan, better mental health with a reduction in symptoms for conditions such as ADHD, aggression and improved levels of happiness. It has educational benefits too, such as better concentration, self-discipline, awareness, reasoning, and observational skills, which in turn facilitate academic progression.
Unfortunately, many of these school age led activities aren’t introduced to children until the ages of four or five. But allowing your children to play with nature as young as possible can kick-start this process earlier.
Here are nine low cost, fun ideas to get your kids out in nature.
1. Woodland Scavenger Hunt
Get those little peepers going and have your tiny person(s) take part in a scavenger hunt. You can either make one up yourself, by choosing objects they can easily identify, such as ‘a flower’, ‘a butterfly’ and ‘a pine cone’, or download a readymade template online.
One way to pique interest in younger children is by making the activity a friendly competition. Offer a small prize to all that manage tick off the whole list, however, be prepared with runner up prizes as sportsmanship isn’t something younger children can always grasp.
2. Build a Bug Hotel
This can be a simple or complex activity depending on your child’s age and how interested they are in creepy crawlies. For building materials, you could check Freecycle websites to see if anyone is getting rid of wooden pallets as a base for the hotel, then use stones, bricks, plant pots, sticks, gravel to create your very own creepy crawly wonderland.
Find a nice clear area to place your hotel and let your little one(s) watch the bugs explore their new abode. If you’re entertaining slightly bigger toddlers, you could turn this activity into an educational experience by looking into what each bug likes to eat etc.
3. Play Dough Nature Imprints
Getting out the house into the great outdoors doesn’t have to involve racing up and around trees. If you have a toddler who prefers making things, there are some activities that can bring arts and crafts to the great outdoors, such as play dough nature imprints.
Firstly, you will need to make easy eco-friendly play dough from a few kitchen cupboard staples.
- 8 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tbsp table salt
- 60ml warm water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix together the water and the oil.
- Pour the water into the flour mix and stir together.
- Dust a work surface with a little flour and turn out the dough. Knead together for a few minutes to form a smooth, pliable dough.
- Store in a plastic sandwich bag (squeeze out the air) in the fridge to keep it fresh.
Roll these into discs or squares before you leave the house and wrap up so they stay fresh. Your little one then can press the dough onto any interesting textures and shapes found whilst you’re out, for example the wrinkles of tree bark, intricate lines of leaves and the rough exterior of large stones.
4. Make a Den
If your child loves nothing more than building a den or fort using cushions, why not take this activity outside? This needn’t consist of much more than three large sticks leaned up against a tree and a few leaves and the assured knowledge that this hastily made structure is now your little person’s ‘castle’.
Let little ones select the building materials and help them assemble them in such a way that they won’t immediately collapse on them, but otherwise the joy of this activity is the ownership children will feel upon its completion.
5. Wax Crayon Rubbings
Another great crafty activity for the little ones, one that requires hardly any preparation, is crayon rubbings. All that’s needed is paper and a few crayons – simple!
Take your little one to woodland or a field and lean the paper against interesting surfaces (e.g. tree bark). Once secure, encourage your child to rub crayons over the paper to reveal the patterns caused by the natural textures.
Once you return home, you can challenge them to identify the objects based on the rubbings made. It is the perfect way to dive deeper into the details of nature, teaching them to identify specific elements of things found outside.
6. Play Pooh Sticks
Make like Winnie the Pooh and his 100-acre wood chums and play a game of pooh sticks in a quiet stream! You could pair this up with reading the books together.
Although you may be familiar with the game, a true game of Pooh sticks actually has rules, you know!
- Each select a stick – it’ll be best if they have some sort of obvious difference.
- Check which way the stream is flowing. You should face upstream.
- Hold your sticks at arm’s length over the stream. The tallest ones should lower their arms to bring all the sticks to the same height over the stream as the shortest child’s stick.
- The starter calls, ‘Ready – Steady – Go!” and everyone drops their sticks.
(Note: sticks shouldn’t be thrown into the water)
- At this point in the game everyone must cross to the downstream side of the bridge.
- Look over the edge of the bridge for the sticks to emerge.
- The owner of the first stick to float from under the bridge, is the winner.
Alternatively, you and your little one(s) can just drop your sticks in the water and watch as the current carries them under a bridge and away, particularly if they are still a little too young to follow the rules of a game yet.
7. Have a Picnic
A thoroughly wholesome endeavour, take a blanket and a packed lunch, as simple or as fanciful as you like and sit down together.
You can always let the kids help make or pack the picnic before you leave – a great way to get everyone involved and make the fun happen. Some great picnic food choices include finger sandwiches, orange segments and oat and raisin cookies, for example.
You could even incorporate a theme to your picnic, such as teddy bears, to make it more exciting.
8. Cloud Spotting
A perfect activity to follow a picnic. After lunch or at the end of the day when everyone needs to relax, lay flat on your backs on the grass together and point out clouds that look like other objects.
This activity can spark a little one’s imagination, giving them the opportunity to identify shapes and perhaps even create a story around them. Try to spot things you have seen earlier in the day, like clouds shaped like birds, trees, worms or leaves.
9. Make a Journey Stick
A journey stick is a memento of a nature day, kids can pick up fallen items collected on the walk (it’s important not to pick from unknown plants as they could be protected or even dangerous). Items can include leaves, twigs, flowers, feathers or anything else natural that you find along the way.
Toddlers could use a long piece of cardboard with double sided sticky tape on to stick the items to the card. If you wanted to make this a more regular activity you could theme the sticks, or create one for each season.
Written by Kiddi Caru Day Nurseries and Preschool, experts in child care and developing young minds.