As the weather starts to improve, it's the perfect time to get kids out and about and show them the joy of nature. It doesn't have to be a structured thing--in fact, unstructured is almost always better when it comes to kids and nature.If you're looking for a little inspiration, here's a list of ideas I've collected over 30 years of having kids who all now absolutely adore nature:
- Plant treats to eat. Regular strawberries or alpine strawberries, for example, make an easy landscaping plant and delicious snacks. And they grow back every year. Blueberries make a nice landscape bush. Of course, there are fruit trees, too. The idea is to teach kids to snack from your yard.
- Let them plant vegetables and flowers in containers right by their favorite place to play. Plant carrots in a pot by the swing set or cherry tomatoes next to the slide. Or just grow some green beans by the back door. Never eaten a fresh raw green bean? You haven't lived!
- Create places to snuggle outside. Sitting in a comfy chair snuggling with your kids is the best positive reinforcement you can give. An added bonus is when you spot a hummingbird, a butterfly, or a cute rabbit while you're there.
- Make secret hideouts. When my oldest was young, she and her cousin had "the digging yard," which was a patch of dirt under the branches of an ancient forsythia bush where they took digging trucks and basically just dug things. Endless hours of fun!
- Look for scat. We have a fox that loves to mark its territory by pooping right in the middle of the driveway. What kid doesn't love to talk about poop? Every kid should know the difference between deer poop and rabbit poop and other kinds of poop. The wild animal poop list is endless...and endlessly fascinating.
- Don't show fear. Find a worm? Ohh and ahh; don't screech. Spiders? Cool! "Let's look up what kind it is!" Kids walk in covered in mud? Don't freak out. Laugh about it and make them do their own laundry. Clothes are totally replaceable. Kids and nature are not.
- Gather treasures. Sticks, flowers, stones, dead bugs, grass clippings, moss, feathers, weird unidentified objects--it's all good! Encourage the kids to make a special box to keep them in.
- Look up bird sounds and birds to identify together. There's one bird that always sounds like it's singing "drink your teeeeeeaaaaa" all summer. And another that sounds like a wild monkey--that one is a pileated woodpecker, which is as big as a small monkey!
- Paint it, draw it, photograph it. Put an easel outside and let them get messy and create. Give the kids the camera and see the world through their eyes. Give them a sketchbook and some colored pencils, put on some music, and don't criticize or overdirect. When it comes to creativity, there is no right or wrong or good or bad. That's the way it is with nature, too.
- A blanket, some pillows, a picnic, and some tea. It's the quintessential thing to do, but don't skimp on comfort or the tea. If you have fresh mint or fresh lemon verbena, just pour some boiling water over it. Or make homemade lemonade. The idea is to get comfortable, relax, and enjoy spending time outside with your kids--no matter what their age! After all, nature is timeless and brings out the kid in all of us.
Follow Maria Rodale on Twitter: www.twitter.com/farmkitchenblog