I have written this week’s blog to accompany our Big Garden Birdwatch Cards. To grab your set, click here.
I don’t know about you, but over the last few weeks, my Instagram has been flooded with talk of new years resolutions. One of the most common resolutions I have seen is to spend more time outdoors with many taking on the 1000 hours outdoors challenge.
While 1000 hours outside might feel like an impossible achievement, there are certainly small ways we can all make more use of the great outdoors! In this week’s blog post, I am going to share with you the reasons why time spent outdoors is so important for children, but also give you some activity ideas to keep things easy, fun and enjoyable!
What are the benefits of exploring nature? How does it benefit a child's development?
There are so many benefits of time outdoors that I couldn’t begin to list them all, but here are my favourite ten:
It gives children the time to be children, away from technology
It allows them to explore in nature
Great for their physical health
Provides many opportunities to burn off some energy
Supports mental health and well-being
Creates unstructured time your children can use to let loose
Tons of wonderful sensory experiences
Provides opportunities for learning in a less stressful environment, such as writing in mud
Keeps them in touch with nature as the seasons change.
Creates peaceful time that can be spent as a family making memories
How do you introduce nature to kids?
Exploring nature with children is one of my favourite things to do. I love it as a teacher and as a parent. As we have discussed, outdoor play has so many benefits, but it can be difficult to get started if you aren’t used to it. One day, when I was about still a toddler, my parents decided we need to spend more time outdoors, so they took us on a huge walk that lasted most of the day. It was muddy, tiring and cold. I was miserable! This was the wrong approach as we went from virtual no outdoor activity to a huge excursion we weren’t used to. My best advice would be to start small. Maybe spend half an hour in the garden first. Then build up to a walk through the local woods and so on until your little ones are bursting at the seams to get outside. Remember, the more fun you can make it, the more they will want to do it!
How do you cope with extreme weather (hot or cold)?
The key here is preparation. Whether you are planning outdoor activities in the height of summer or depths of winter, making sure you have the necessary equipment ahead of time is what will lead you to success. Do you need sun cream? Or a hat? Or gloves? Or a flask of hot chocolate? Make a list and ensure you have everything with you.
What activities can make time outside fun?
So, without further ado, here are 10 easy ways to get your little ones exploring nature!
1) Get lost and go exploring!
One of my absolute favourite activities for kids is to simply get lost! Find a nature reserve car park you haven’t stopped in before or a local walking trail you have yet to try and head across into unknown territory. This is a great way to teach children about navigation, perhaps even bringing along a compass if you have one (I love this one from Hape). But, the true joy of being lost is all the things you will discover along the way. Will you find some interesting habitats? Will you pick up the prettiest stone or find the most crystal clear stream? Kids love to explore and if you let the kids lead the way, it will be a huge boost to their confidence!
If the thought of getting lost makes you a little nervous, there are plenty of apps you can use which will track your location, so you can follow them back to your starting point meaning you’ll never truly be lost, but can still have the feeling you are!
2) Use nature for learning!
There are so many ways you can make use of all the resources nature has to offer. You could use a huge stick to mark make in the mud (a great way to engage reluctant writers), practice writing their name by arranging leaves and twigs on the grass or use sticks and stones as a makeshift tens frame.
Other options are using outdoor resources to make rhythms of play and music! For example, you could use mud kitchen pots as drums, rub sticks together to make sounds, crunch leaves underfoot anything to make their time in nature all the more musical!
3) Build a fort outside
As a child, this was my all-time favourite thing to do. I have such fond memories of tucking an old sheet in my backpack and heading into the woods with my friends. We would use large sticks to create a huge structure and the sheet as protection from the wind. Inside, we would eat snacks and tell stories. It truly is a perfect way to spend a day, but is also the sort of activity that your child will remember long into their adult years. Get your kids experimenting with different shape structures and allow their creativity to run free!
4) Have a nature scavenger hunt
If you’ve been part of the Little Learning Hub community for a while, I am sure you have heard me raving about scavenger hunts before. They are one of my absolute favourite ways to learn. I have transformed some of the dullest lessons, things like converting fractions and finding verb tenses, into Ofsted celebrated lessons by creating a scavenger hunt. It is a versatile concept that can be used both indoors and out.
If you aren’t familiar, all you need to do is grab a piece of paper and draw or write down a few things you’d like to find while out on your walk. It could be things like daffodils, mushrooms, birds… anything! As you spot them, tick them off or create a tally to see how many you’ve found. At home, you might choose to use photographs of the items rather than the real thing to ensure you can actually find them! If you are a Little Learning Hub member, there are plenty of done-for-you nature scavenger hunts inside your member’s area.
5) Make a bird feeder
There are several ways to make bird feeders and most of them can be done with very little mess. You could grab a pinecone, push peanut butter into each gap and stuff it with birdseed, roll a toilet roll in peanut butter and seed or melt a cheap block of lard, add some seed and wait for it to reharden.
The birds will definitely appreciate the effort and I always feel this is a great introduction to helping children to understand about caring for other people and creatures.
6) Look for signs of nature
Every year, we join in with the Great British Bird Watch in January. This is a great way to get your little ones involved in nature study and help them learn about nature in their local area. You can find a selection of printable resources to help you make the most of this year’s bird watch (and they’re great for all-year-round bird play, too!) by clicking here.
Other ways to help kids explore different parts of nature is to take some plain paper and draw the things you’ve found, look for animal tracks and habitats or examine how the same place changes with the seasons. Getting kids outside to spend time in nature helps them connect with wildlife and living things to better understand their local area.
7) Create some nature art
Take some time to explore the resources you find on a nature walk. You could use leaves, twigs and stones, for example, to make truly joyous nature art. Encourage your children to learn about texture, colour and shape through natural resources. It helps children develop their mark-making skills, too.
I recently brought some leaves inside for Arlo to paint and it was a real hit! We got this paint station for Arlo for Christmas and I cannot recommend it enough, total mess-free paint!
You could create a self-portrait from leaves, recreate characters from their favourite books, write letters or use stones to make patterns. I always love to take a photograph afterwards so I have something to remember forever!
8) Have a picnic
Who said picnics are only for summer days in the long grass?
One of the best picnic hacks I ever saw, and to this day it is a firm favourite, is to fill a drinking flask with warm water, add a few hot dogs and bring along some plain bread rolls. Then, when you are ready, you simply lift out the still-warm hot dogs, add them to your buns and have a deliciously warming tasty treat that’s perfect for even those cold winter or autumn days.
Another great option is to warm something up ahead of time, like a kids microwave meal, tin of soup or leftovers from yesterday’s dinner and pack it into a child’s food flask (we love this nuby one that’s still going strong from when Arlo was tiny!)
9) Start composting (grow something)
What do you do with all your vegetable peelings and coffee grounds? Starting a composting bin is a great way to introduce the concept of the environment to children. Plus, you can use the compost you create to grow something! There are many fun things you can grow, but our favourite is our own Halloween pumpkin in the back garden! Get creative!
10) Shadow games
Arlo loves this one! You grab a toy, such as a toy giraffe, and place it in the garden on a piece of white paper. Look at the shadow on the paper and trace around it. If your child is too young for this, you could do it for them or use something like paint to colour the part that is in shadow. Now, wait a few hours and retry to see what has happened to the shadow! You could repeat with an outline of yourself in chalk, too. It is a great ‘aha’ moment and perfect for STEM development!
So, there we have it, 10 activities you can do outdoors with your little ones. Leave me a comment and let me know which one you are going to try first!