The sun has finally arrived and so has our new Outdoor Explorer activity book! Over the past few, mostly rainy, months we’ve been investing a lot of thought in how to engage our little ones with nature. With our lives becoming increasingly busy and reliant on technology, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of nature and the fact that our children might not know much about it. National Trust research revealed that children spend less than half the amount of time outside as their parents did as children.
Thankfully, a lot of young people have access to outdoor activities, such as playing football or climbing park equipment. However, there’s not always much outdoor time spent investigating and enjoying nature. We know that if children don’t learn to appreciate the natural world, they’re less likely to grow up wanting to protect it. And we all know the world needs a bit of TLC. We’ve come up with some ideas about how to get your little ones interested and learning about the natural world, through play, creativity and investigation.
Make it personal
Children are more likely to show an interest in nature if they form a connection with it. Maybe they’re curious about butterflies because they’re in Butterfly Class at school. And linking theory with reality can be a route to success. Can you connect something they’ve learnt about at school with what they can see around them? For example, did you know that chickens are the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex? If you have a dinosaur-mad child, then get them bird watching. Birds are the only surviving dinosaurs and there’s a lovely little video at the Natural History Museum’s website that explains why. You can support their bird watching with some home-learning using Teddo Play’s play-based learning cards, birds and insects edition. They have a stunning photo of the bird on the front and facts about it on the back. Perfect for helping your child to identify what they’ve spotted.
Miniature gardens and toy car dirt track racing
We might not be able to pique our child’s interest in zoology or botany through mere suggestion but starting to play with nature is a great entry point. Creating a miniature garden is a lovely way of getting your child to think about landscapes and investigating nature to furnish their own little world. This can be as basic or as complex as you want - from collecting moss to make a miniature lawn to actually planting seeds and watching the garden grow. If tiny gardens aren’t your child’s thing, then how about constructing a miniature dirt track course for their toy cars? Use leaves, puddles, soil and stones as different surfaces and obstacles.
Daisy chains, leaf armour, perfume and potions
Whether your child wants the alchemy skills of Hermione Granger or to be a medieval knight, the garden has plenty to offer. Can you create a suit of armour using large leaves, sticks and string? How about mixing flower petals with water to create potions or perfumes? And, there’s always daisy chain jewellery. The lovely Adventure Map at Toddle has daisy chains as one of its activities and we think it’s a great idea!
Photography and painting
For obvious reasons, we love it when our children paint outdoors (preferably close to a hosepipe). There are plenty of natural ‘tools’ you can use as a brush, such as leaves and sticks. Photography is also an excellent way to get children to really look at nature. Zooming in on an image allows them to spot details they wouldn’t with the naked eye. It can also form the basis for creating a gallery or fact file. If you have a child who’s reluctant to swap a screen for a scene, getting them to use a smartphone or tablet to take pictures can be a compromise.
Outdoor learning never got so cool! This also works if you’re short on outdoor space. Exploring the inner workings of anything seems to be the ultimate childhood dream and pulling apart a flower is a constructive way to be destructive. It also develops fine motor skills whilst revealing how amazing the natural world is. There are lots of online resources to help explore a flower’s reproductive system and you can watch a fun Youtube demonstration with CBBC presenter Maddie Moate and science journalist Greg Foot.