Are you looking for ways to get your kids outside? Allowing your children to explore in the great outdoors is a fantastic way for them to engage with their natural curiosity about the world around them.
According to Children and Nature Network, only 6% of children age 9-13 play outside on their own. By contrast, research from the Kaiser family foundation shows that children and teens age 8-18 spend an alarming average of 53 hours each week using entertainment media.
One day when I was about 8 years old, my friend and I found a small field mouse in my basement. I’m guessing that most children would shriek and run upon finding such a discovery in the room they only hours before had been using as a location for a slumber party. However, I was thrilled to find this new friend. We trapped it in a bucket, named it Mr. Ruggers (I don’t recall why), and took it down to a local park to play with it. That is likely not a mouse’s idea of a fun excursion, but we had a grand time pushing it on the tire swing, going down the fire pole with it, and sending it down the slides.
In telling this story, I am not encouraging children today to treat a mouse like I did. Little did we know it at the time, but I’m sure we traumatized the poor thing a great deal! However, I will say it seems that today’s generation of children has lost some element of its curiosity and interest in the natural world. And as educators and parents of these children, it is our job to spark that curiosity once again.
Inspiring OUtdoor Play
If you have preschool or early elementary-aged kids, print out the following spring nature bingo sheet. Go on a nature walk with your children. Explain to them that you are going to be naturalists for an hour. A naturalist is a scientist who explores nature by directly observing it. See if your children can help you find five items on your bingo sheet in a row! If they are enjoying your exploration, then give them the added challenge of “bingo blackout,” where they find all of the items on the sheet. Bring along a crayon or marker for them to cross off items as you walk. When you get home, make sure to ask them about their favorite item on the list!
Challenge your children to be naturalists. A naturalist is a scientist who studies nature by directly observing and recording what they find. Naturalists almost always carry a special notebook where they record all their observations. Make naturalist notebooks by folding copy paper in half and tying the middle together by hole-punching along the edge and tying yarn through the holes. Repurpose a brown grocery bag for the cover and have them decorate it. Allow your child to go outside and explore and take notes or make drawings of anything interesting they might find. If this sounds too much like school work to them, make it into a game. Have them pretend they are brave explorers discovering a brand new land. Nobody else has ever seen the plants, animals and other natural elements that they will be discovering. If multiple children are participating, have them go out on their own with the challenge to discover as much as they can about their new land. When they return together as group, they can share all that they found and determine how they can live in this new land with the plants/animals/other elements that they discovered!