Saturday, 11 April 2015

Get outside!

So last week I posted about the importance of play for children.  Today I want to share with you how important it is for children (EVERYONE) to get out in nature!!

Here are some observations I've noticed from my own family, running a home daycare and participating in a nature-based playgroup.

Exploring the forest after a rain
Being in nature is calming.  Just getting outside in any weather can drastically change anyone's mood.  Of course dressing properly also helps.  When my boys are full of energy and bouncing around the house we all go crazy being stuck inside.  But that same energy more spread out and in nature is very different.  We have more space, a change of scene and new things to focus that energy on.  If anyone is grumpy, tired or depressed that extra vitamin D, sunshine and fresh air does wonders for your mood.  Natural lighting too affects people vs those artificial lights indoors.

I haven't even begun to sing the praises of appreciating the beauty and wonder of nature.  Going for a walk can clear your mind.  Focusing on local plants and animals rejuvenates the soul.

Walking along fallen tree alone
Being in nature can build confidence.  I had a little girl in my daycare that had to hold both my hands tightly to cross a low balance beam made of tree stumps and a wooden beam. She would get very upset if anyone came near incase they wiggled the beam.  Of course my own boys grew up with the balance beam always being there and would bounce about and leap along.  Over the course of just one summer with us she was so proud to walk almost unassisted along and jump off the end.  Now a few years later (even though we see her less often) she is willing to try and climb trees with the best of them!  We never pushed or insisted on any skills the children wanted to practice.  I was simply available to them if they asked, but there is something compelling and driving these wonderful children to concur that fallen log or climb that leaning tree.

My boys were in the forest last week.  They wanted to walk across a fallen tree so at first they asked to hold my hand. Then they each tried to go a little bit on their own.  After the first slip one was ready to give up. I reminded him that we had plenty of time, he could go do something else, or try again but perhaps hold his body slightly differently.  He thought about and tried several different ways to get across and was so proud of his efforts.

For myself I too have benefitted from my outdoor experience.  I really wanted to grow vegetables but was rather clueless with how to start.  I joined a local garden plot and randomly stuck in a few plants (mostly tomatoes that year).  You can't imagine my excitement when something actually grew!!!  The other gardeners were very encouraging and so were my boys.  Each year now I have been more brave and adventurous.  I have taken time to research which plants to grow and what to do.  Last year we

had a huge variety and also started planting at home too.  I'm excited about planting again.  My boys are caring for the seedlings themselves. Each morning they rush to see how everything has grown a little over night.  All this happened because I was willing to give it a try.

Daycare feeding their pet lion (that is what the tree looks like)
Being in nature develops so many skills.  Just like playing indoors, children need unstructured time in nature.  Think of how much physical activity they get by running around, rolling down hills and climbing trees.  Far more than at a metal playground.  Fine motor skills are strengthened by picking up leaf stems, pine needles, dandelions and bugs.  Observing changes in seasons, carefully inspecting a beetle or flower are all amazing skills that children can work on for free just by stepping outside.  Think of the concentration they have by watching a line of ants try to get around a pebble in the path.

Get more than one child together in nature and amazing things can happen.  Grand adventures full of imagination.  Team building and negotiations happen in all sorts of ways.  My daycare children loved to use our outdoor play kitchen.  It was simply some cinder blocks with wood on top and a few kitchen items.  They'd work together to create restaurants and meals for each other and the squirrels in the forest.

Just the other day we had over some friends whom we hadn't seen in a while.  Outside the children worked together to build a fort in out front yard and played beautifully.  In our nature playgroup the parents don't intervene very often (occasionally for safety reasons).  The children become explorers, take turn as leaders and have a wonderful time.

Visit to 'the pond' in our forest
Certain spots in nature can become like a second home.  You don't have to have a huge yard or live in a forest (although we are personally blessed with both).  Try visiting the same location in nature weekly or monthly and watch that relationship blossom.

There is a little tree on a path that we visit often.  Every time we go my boys take turns measuring their height against that little pine tree.  When my oldest was about 3 or 4 they were the same height.  It is like a little friend to him.  We have a tree in our yard that my friend gifted to us.  My boys tenderly clear the snow from around it, water and love that tree.  They each have their own flower bed (okay they claimed one each that was already at the house), but they know each plant personally.

We often visit 'the pond' (it is just a part of the forest that fills with water in the spring and snow in the winter).  The love to make predictions about they changes they observe.  Each log and rock is so familiar to my boys.  We've named a few and have adventures each time we visit.

So excited to see a new tulip bloom
Being in nature develops responsibility.  If we want our children to grow up respecting the environment and caring for the earth, they need to get outside and experience it personally!  They need to love nature, see how their actions affect it, and develop that special bond.  My boys always want to pick up trash on our walks because they deeply care for the world and know what it takes to keep it healthy.

My boys help with the leaves, snow removal, planting, etc.  They enjoy it and often ask to do these tasks for me.  Through real life experience they also see what happens when we let things slide.  They are learning life long skills and responsibility just be getting out and joining in with what my husband and I are doing.  This weekend they spent more than five hours outside caring for our yard, gardens and helping with some house renos in amongst playing in the sand box.

Puddle jumping in the driveway
Nature is the best sensory experience!  We all know that there are hundreds of Pintrest boards full of awesome sensory ideas for children.  We love our sensory bins and acknowledge that interesting sensory experiences are great for growing babies and toddlers.  What better way to fulfill these nees than to get outside!!  Imagine taking off your shoes and feeling grass tickle your toes, sand running between your fingers, mud squishing under your feet.  So many different textures, sounds, smells to experience.  Each season brings it's own unique treasures to explore.

Fort building
Want to know more? Instead of posting all about the research that is already out there on the internet, just do a search for the importance of children in nature or connecting children to nature or something similar.  There is so much information about how beneficial it is!!!

Now it's your turn to share:  What are your favourite reasons to get outside?  How have you been experience nature?




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