Spending time outdoors, exploring and experiencing the natural world, can benefit our physical and mental health. For children, connecting with nature has a hugely positive impact on their development in many ways, particularly their inclination and ability to learn. Read on for our top tips.
1. Keep it simple, notice and observe You don’t need any special equipment, or in fact anything at all, to connect with nature. Start by noticing small things and encouraging your little ones to do the same – the colours outside and how they change, when the light or the temperature rises or falls, the sounds at different times of day or how different tree trunks feel to your touch. Try to use all your senses – take off your shoes to walk barefoot if it’s safe to do so to really immerse yourself in the sensation. 2. Collect and discover Little ones love to build collections, and this can be a great starting point to exploring nature. They may not need to be prompted and will begin collecting objects that interest them on their own, but you could also give some suggestions, asking them to collect different coloured stones or leaves, or to find objects in a certain colour or shape. Giving them a tool such as a collection box or jar or even a magnifying glass will motivate their search, and you’ll soon find they are leading their own treasure hunts without any prompting. 3. Nurture Planting a garden, even on the smallest of scales, is a wonderful way of engaging little ones with nature and helping them to understand life cycles – it might even help them to appreciate the food they eat! Planting seeds, nurturing them and seeing what they grow into is so rewarding and will help little ones to learn patience and responsibility while giving them a real sense of wonder – even if it’s simply a few cress seeds or a beansprout on cotton wool. 4. Create Encourage little ones to use their imagination and problem-solving skills to create something solely out of items they find outdoors. This could be as simple as a piece of artwork (check out our Nature Framed craft idea here) or something more complicated, like a bird feeder or bug hotel. Seeing something they have made being used by wildlife will give them a sense of achievement and help them feel more connected to the natural world. 5. Make time and role model As with most things in parenting, little ones will be inspired to spend time outside exploring nature if they see their grown-ups doing so too. Try to make sure you are always prepared to allow outdoor play to happen, even if it’s not planned or you aren’t in your ‘perfect’ space – although daunting for parents, it’s important little ones see outdoor play as something to be embraced, not feared or avoided because it’s too difficult. Set aside time to put away screens and enjoy outdoor time together, even if it’s only a few times a week. As you experience nature together, consider the traits you would like to see your little one develop and make sure you demonstrate these, whether it be taking care to watch your step, being aware and appreciative of the colours and sounds around you or not leaving any litter behind. Talking to your little one about what they are discovering, asking them questions to help them consider further what you are experiencing together, will lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of your natural surroundings for you both.