Entertaining Kids: Using Nature As A Classroom

“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

– Richard Louv

My little one completed first grade today! Hallelujah. I can say with confidence that summer has finally arrived in the Midwest. As I type this post, I am sitting at my kitchen island with the windows wide open. The scent of sweet peonies and freshly cut grass are drifting through my home on a cool breeze. Outside I can hear my daughter giggling as she digs for worms in the garden. School may be over, but the learning of childhood continues.

I remember loving summer vacation as a youngster. It was a magical time to explore nature, as my friends and I would play and adventure from dawn until dinner time. Neighborhood trees transformed into spaceships, front yards morphed into baseball fields, and my father’s garden became a tasting lab filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. The days were long, and friendships blossomed and grew under bright blue skies that stretched on forever.

Though I can idealize my formative years, even back in the 1980s kids were susceptible to the influence of electronic devices. From Atari to Nintendo to cable TV, I remember friends staying inside glued to a television screen all summer long. My parents set limits on those things, and I was better off because of it.

We have to set limits, too.

As parents, it is our job to give kids the space to roam and explore the natural world. In the book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv writes about the important role nature plays in nurturing the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people. Playing outside helps kid builds independence, confidence, creativity, and resiliency. It also teaches children about the interconnectedness of Earth’s living beings and the need to care for the world around us. And for those parents fixated on academic achievement, nature absolutely reinforces important math, science, and reasoning skills taught during the school year.

Here are some fun ways to encourage your child to get outdoors this summer:

1.) Get her involved in gardening and yard work. After all, your backyard is an ecosystem filled with birds, bugs, flowers, and trees…it’s all there waiting to be discovered. Have your child keep a “field journal” to document what she sees and learns.

2.) Allow your child to create a “kids space” outside. It could be a quiet corner under a shady tree where he lays down a blanket to read, an existing tree house that he fixes up with artwork and age-appropriate games and toys, or a dedicated space on the patio that he uses to paint and draw.

Space for Kids

3.) As a family, explore parks, botanical gardens, beaches, and trails to discover new plants and animals. Spend time teaching your child about nature. As grownups, we benefit from these experiences too!

4.) Let your child dress up in costumes as she heads out to explore. My little one loves to put on a fancy dress or cape before adventuring into the wild. Imaginative play is creative and fun! It turns the world into a story with evolving characters, settings, and possibilities.

Superhero by Masha

5.) As much as you might want to tell him to “be careful” every five minutes, children need space to try new things and test boundaries. Scrapes and scratches are to be expected. I always tell my kiddo, if you have a scraped knee, then I know you had fun.

IMG_0068

Wading in the Water

Enjoy this amazing time of year – it goes by so quickly!

Does your family want more adventure? On your next stop to the library or bookstore, consider exploring one of these titles with your youngster: Lady Bug Girl and Bingo by David Soman and Jacky Davis; Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel; Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton; or, for older readers, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

If you’re looking for more inspiration from Entertaining Family, check out Family “Field Trips”.

Friends

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