Exposing our kids to nature and outdoor play is pretty easy if you live in a rural area. My first kiddo was raised for five years mountainside in Arizona with hundreds of acres of state land all around us. Our biggest concern was not making sure he got acquainted with Mother Nature but rather making sure Mother Nature’s wondrous rattlesnakes didn’t bite him and that he didn’t fall down an abandoned mine shaft. Then we moved to a working farm in Ohio and my kids (two by then) loved that. But after my cancer and all that drama we ended up moving to the city and have been here ever since. I love both environments equally but sometimes it is a bit harder to make sure my kids get that time they need to do nothing but wander around in nature and explore all that Mother Nature has to offer by way of all natural entertainment. Playing in a small front or backyard just isn’t the same thing. As with anything, you just have to think outside the box. Here are some ideas:
Equip Them for Nature Observation – Give kids adventuring gadgets and they will put them to good use. Binoculars, a magnifying glass, telescope, microscope, bug houses, etc. All these make it incredibly fun for kids to explore every blade of grass they come across, to analyze things on a cellular level, and to explore the stars as well. Some of these things can be pricey and I believe in getting quality equipment, not the cheap kiddie versions. But if you check out Craigslist, eBay, and local yard sales you should be able to find these things second hand.
Play Parks & Natural Parks – If you are lucky your city may have natural play spaces. Regular parks with swings and slides are fun and all but that isn’t nature either, not really. Natural play spaces are are still wild with tress, vegetation, streams, and rocks for kids to climb and play on. We have a couple of these in Columbus and they are lots of fun. There are also some parks here where side trails take you to creeks and areas where downed trees make great places to play. We visited one of these this week in an old quarry. Ended up hiking 3 miles that day and my 5 year old had a blast. Your city Parks and Recreation web page should be bookmarked and used often! If your city doesn’t have one, consider making one yourself.. other parents would greatly appreciate info on all the great places to play.
Day Trips – If you don’t live close to any great adventuring spots consider making more frequent day trips to places that do. We often visit covered bridges, local farms, fishing holes, waterfalls, and all sorts of great stuff that may be anywhere from 20-90 minutes away. We just pack a bag of snacks and drinks and off we go!
Certified Wildlife Habitat – See if you can turn your backyard into a certified wildlife habitat. You may need to add some food sources and places for animals to raise their families but it was a lot of fun for us to do this at one of our previous houses.
Camping & Backpacking – Not everyone likes to do these things but it is worth it to do it anyway… for your kids. You can pick up second hand gear and try to get into this slowly… maybe one night here and there. Backpacking day trips are another great way to get out and ease into camping. Kids can help carry their own gear, prepare dehydrated foods beforehand, and learn survival skills like identifying edible plants and treating drinking water. Parents and kids alike may get a kick out of pretending they are living off the land and then pretty soon you won’t have to pretend anymore. It is a dream of mine for my family of five to hike the Appalachian Trail together in few years. Just waiting for my youngest to get a few years older! What could be better than a 6 month long through hike with your kids?
Books About Nature – Reading about adventuring in nature can be just what a family needs to spur them into action. For kids perhaps books like Treasure Island, The Swiss Family Robinson, the Little House books, or the more modern Gaia Girls series. For adults… A Walk in the Woods and Hiking Through. The latter book was written by a man who decides to through hike the Appalachian Trail after his wife dies. It was such an emotional and inspiring look at nature as a healer and making the most of the time we have with our loved ones.
Feng Shui – If you recall, I am a big Feng Shui enthusiast. I like teaching my kids about the concepts of it because it incorporates a lot of nature into the decor of your home. Colors of nature are represented in different rooms, materials have to include those from all elements… earth, water, fire, metal, and wood. It really teaches you to to be more aware of nature.. the colors, the materials, the delicate balance, and how nature itself can be a healer.
Celebrate the Wheel of the Year – You may already celebrate the conventional holidays like Christmas and Halloween but you can also celebrate the 8 Sabbats or festivals most often associated with pagan traditions. They are closely tied to nature because they follow the seasons. Just this past week was Beltane. It is sandwiched between Ostara (Spring Equinox) and Midsummer (Summer Solstice). All these holidays have related stories that can be shared with kids and nature activities that they can do. And if you feel weird about celebrating pagan holidays just remember that they were here first. Ostara was co-opted by Christians and turned into Easter. Samhain was turned into Halloween, etc. Kids won’t mind having even more holidays to celebrate and technically you are celebrating some already… just under a different name and maybe a slightly different date.
Your turn. What are some of your favorite ways to encourage city kids to embrace Mother Nature?