I grew up in a rural area.
My house was in the middle of a small town, so you could make the argument that it was more suburban in nature, but it took us 15 minutes to get to the next major town. Coupled with living in New England, it meant that you stuck close to home, especially during the winter when roads were hazardous. There really wasnt much to do even if you went 15 mintues away, you had to travel farther to find any sort of quality entertainment.
As a kid, I had to learn to occupy my time with my surrounding environment. This was before the Internet and my parents didn’t have cable for most of my childhood. So I had two choices: inside or outside.
Being inside the house was nice, but that got boring and cramped, especially with a dog. So I spent most of my time outside, even in the rain or cold weather. I would spend hours outside: building things, climbing trees, reading in the shade. When I was old enough, in summer I would split my time between biking to the library and the town pool.
Sunscreen or not, I built up a nice tan with all the time I spent outside each summer.
As I mentioned before, I also hiked a bit and spent time at the local Audobon center helping out with wildlife rehabilitation and taking nature classes. When I moved away for college and later down South to a major urban center, I lost touch with how much I loved spending time outdoors. Picking up running within the last year and having a wooded area as the primary training location helped reconnect me with the outdoors.
Having a toddler in an urban setting meant that if I wanted Jai to have similar childhood experiences I did, I would need to work a little harder to make sure he engaged with nature. I would have to take him to parks, interact with our yard, and find opportunities to get him to engage with nature on a frequent basis.
Why Engage with Nature?
It’s not always easy to spend time outside. We get busy or we live someplace where the greenspace is limited. But taking the opportunity to spend a few minues a day outside can be so beneficial. It can reduce stress, promote short-term memory, and act as an anti-inflammatory: all wonderful things for someone with MS.
Likewise, there are also a lot of benefits for children outdoors. Spending time with a toddler outside is a great way for him to engage with the world around him, nurture a love for the environment, and help focus that energy and attention span. It’s also a wonderful bonding experience for the parent and child. A lot of the nature activities require one-on-one time between parent and child where the parent explains new concepts or engage the child in a line of questioning.
The hope is to provide children with options by spending time outside. There are times when power goes out or you have to visit a remote location with limited internet access. By getting children to engage with nature before these scenarios, it will hopefully be easier to get them to go outside until the situation changes.
Things to Do
There are a lot of simple things parents can do to get their children outside, most need parental involvement at first, which will be great for bonding and your own health:
- Take them on nature walks
- In your yard, neighborhood, or local park/preserve
- Ask questions when you see something interesting and get your child to critically think through answers
- Bring a container for collecting items. See if you can start a leaf, twig, or rock collection for each walk
- Build a fairy house
- As a child, I always built one with natural materials (no glue or wire) as a means to see if I could create a stable house in all sorts of weather
- Set up the house outside and have small dolls or toys to play in the house
- Write down stories your child creates surrounding the house owners
- Set up a blanket and read outside
- Find some shade, grab some snacks and spend time reading outside. Books/stories about nature would be perfect for the surroundings.
- Set up a bird feeder and do bird watching from a slight distance
- Make sure you have a bird ID book so you can learn the different birds that visit the feeder
- Set up the feeder near a window so you can watch birds on rainy/snowy days as well
- Note: if you have a neighborhood bird of prey, this may be a learning opportunity of life cycle for smaller birds and creatures. You may need to explain what happens if a hawk swoops in
- If you can do so safely, teach your little one to climb a tree
- Only do this if you feel comfortable spotting your child and they start with short heights
While you are spending time outside with your little one, make sure to ask them a lot of questions. Not just about their surroundings and what you are doing with them, but also see how they are feeling.
If they start to get antsy, bored, or seem unhappy, make sure to honor those feelings. Spending time outside should be a fun experience and forcing it will make it harder to encourage another excusion. Some days they will be ready to spend hours outside and other days only five minutes. There’s always later in the day or tomorrow, so try to be flexible in your plans until your child gets used to being outside.
As they get older, include them in the plans by asking them what they would like to do. Their answers may surprise you and lead you down the path for a fun adventure that you’ll talk about into their adulthood.
What are some of the things you do with your little ones to get them to spend more time outside? What did you do as a kid when it came to the outdoors? Leave your comments and stories below.
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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography