Oct 17, 2014

Helping your family reconnect with nature

Share the joys of a childhood spent splashing in puddles, running barefoot in the garden or climbing trees.

In summer, it's easier to encourage the kids to play outside or spend time in nature. But fall is an incredible season of change and a great time of year for the whole family to reconnect with nature. Here are some ideas to help you enjoy the great outdoors before the winter chill sets in.

Go walking

According to one study by US psychologists, children who disconnect from electronic devices and spend time in nature are more creative and develop better observation skills. Encourage the kids to switch off their device, kick off their shoes and enjoy the feeling of lush grass or bare earth against their feet. Whether it's in the backyard, the local park or a national reserve, spending time walking barefoot will give kids a sensory thrill that will better connect them to the earth.

Even just leaving the car at home and walking to the school or shops in the fresh and sunshine will make your family feel far more refreshed than sitting in traffic. On the weekend, look up your closest state or national park and go on a day out together. You'd be surprised to find out how close nature is to your doorstep.

Play in the dirt

Kids love making a mess and if you join in you'll find that digging your hands into fresh soil is one of the most rewarding ways to spend an afternoon. Try creating a veggie patch or herb garden, or make mud pies with the kids. In day-to-day life we tend to rely heavily on sight, but in nature you can explore all the senses—touching plants, listening for birdlife and smelling the damp earth.

Research suggests this kind of interaction with nature can reduce the impact of stress on kids and helps them develop a sense of imagination and wonder, which is an important motivator for life-long learning.

Open your home to nature

You don't need to live in the wilderness to enjoy nature. Create a bird feeder, plant flowers that bees and butterflies will love or build a small pond for frogs and you'll soon find you've given the local wildlife a place to call home.

Go on a nature treasure hunt

Print out The Nature Conservancy's "Nature Treasure Hunt" activity sheet, which is perfect for kids aged four to seven years old, and head outside to see what you can find. Kids can find the objects and do the activities in order, or mix it up for fun. There is also a fall activity guide, which has some simple ideas to help kids explore their natural environment during the cooler months.

Generally, kids who have positive experiences in nature also show more advanced coordination, balance and agility skills4. Encourage these skills by ensuring your whole family spends time in nature on a regular basis. If it's part of your regular routine, your kids will one day be telling their family about the fond memories they have of a childhood spent amongst nature.

How do you help your family reconnect with nature? We'd love to hear your tips.

[1] Crain, William (2001). How nature helps children develop. Montessori Life, Summer 2001
[2] Wells, Nancy M. & Evans, Gary W. (2003). Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330
[3] Louv, Richard (1991). Childhood's Future, New York, Doubleday Wilson
[4] Fjortoft, Ingunn (2001). The natural environment as a playground for children: The impact of outdoor play activities in pre-primary school children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2): 111-117