Giving our children the gift of spending time in nature allows them to learn about diversity, beauty and the interconnectedness of all things at their own level and pace. Here are a few suggestions for outdoor activities.
An inexplicable joy comes over me when I see children out exploring wilderness environments and using natural materials to create toys for themselves. By a wilderness environment, I do not necessarily mean that you need to trek for hours into the bush or scale high mountains. Children will happily spend hours experimenting in a relaxed creative state with a few sticks in a puddle in the backyard. Throw in a bit of mud and you have the makings of a playground without having to buy or build a single thing.
Nature provides a classroom and the art materials: it is up to us as parents and caregivers to give them the gift of time to simply be there and experiment. In this day and age, it seems that time has become a precious commodity. Spending time in nature for many people has to be figured into a schedule. “I haven’t got time” could be construed as a catchphrase for stress. It is an interesting observation that not so long ago, when more people lived in rural settings, they went to town for their ‘town fix’. Now the tables have turned and with more people living in an urban environment, they instead head into nature for their ‘nature fix’.
Here are a few suggestions for outdoor activities. These can be a means to an end (for example, if your child wants to make a mobile), or they can be starting points for creative adventures for you and your child.
In many countries, people use leaves as plates. Go on a leaf hunt and create a natural dinner set. Help your children to prepare a picnic that includes small tidbits of food that fit onto your leaf plates (ideas: apple slices, carrot sticks, nuts, mini muffins, rice crackers and cheese cubes). Perhaps you can find a big flat rock or tree stump on which to arrange your feast? Enjoy eating outside together.
Find two sticks of similar size, about one foot in length. Tie them into a cross. Collect leaves of different shapes and colours and hang them with coloured thread from the sticks. Hang the mobile in a breezy spot and watch the leaves dance. This makes an ideal gift for a young child to make for a new baby, as babies love to watch the leaves fluttering.
My grandmother made little houses with me when I was a child and I have delighted in carrying on the tradition with my own children. Fortunately, fairies don’t care about LIM reports, so there is no wrong way to build a fairy house. It just needs to be small. Gather sticks, leaves, dead grass, feathers, shells and bark and begin to construct tiny shelters. Forked sticks are useful for corner posts. Let your child’s imagination run wild. If possible, come back and check on your structures at a later date.
We must teach our children to smell the earth, to taste the rain, to touch the wind, to see things grow, to hear the sunrise and nightfall, to care. John Cleal
Collect lots of different seed pods, small sticks and flowers with large petals (rose and camellia are perfect). Attach the pods and sticks to each other by wrapping fine copper wire around them, adding flower petals for capes, skirts and hair. They could live in the fairy houses.
Rip up a few 1cm wide strips of cotton fabric. Old t-shirts, hankies or tea towels will do. Find a forked stick for a body and a straight stick for arms. Wrap the strips of cloth around the body and arms of your doll until they are firmly attached together. Use a pale strip to attach dried grass or bark as hair for the head of your doll.
Next time you are at the beach, collect a few pieces of interesting-looking driftwood and create a Drifter. A Drifter is a natural sculpture made from driftwood and the sky is the limit when it comes to creativity with this one. Take along a hand drill so that children can drill holes to attach the pieces together with string or flax strips. You can leave your Drifter at the beach or take it home for the garden. Makes a great gift for the grandparents.
Here is one of my favourite activities for encouraging focus. Go into a patch of bush and begin walking v-e-r-y slowly along the path. If the ground is reasonably dry, get down on your hands and knees. Stop and admire a discarded beetle’s wing case and the patterns cast on your skin by sun-kissed branches. Close your eyes and touch moss with the tips of your fingers. Rub leaves on your faces and compare the sensations. Listen to the song of a stream as it gurgles over the rocks. You don’t have to go far but you will be surprised at how much you will see, hear and feel by slowing down and walking small.
Kristina Jensen is a poet, freelance writer, musician and home school parent living on a boat with her family in the Marlborough Sounds.
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