How do you get kids outdoors when remote learning, virtual classrooms and online lessons have become the status quo? For millions of children around the world, technology has helped them to continue learning during extended lockdowns.
But learning via the screen has proved a double-edged sword by adding substantial time to the hours kids already spend on digital platforms, resulting in a lot more sitting and a lot less outdoor fun1. The concern amongst parents and researchers alike is that many children are becoming accustomed to a plugged-in life.
Encouraging outdoor activities to help balance out the effects of too much screen time and sedentary learning has never been more important. Easier said than done though, right?! Experts suggest that as parents, our role is to facilitate nature play, not lead2 .
With this in mind, we’ve short listed five simple ideas we hope will encourage your kids to really engage with nature.
1. Provide tools to facilitate discovery
Often kids don’t know where to start when they get outside. Providing a fun new tool that encourages outdoor exploration can be empowering and at the same time provide the reason to head out the door. Tiger Tribe’s Explorer Microscope Set is a super portable and robust hand-held microscope. Designed to spark curiosity and encourage observation, kids can ‘zoom’ in on nature while discovering specimens such as leaves, flowers, feathers, even different fibres and fabrics.
2. Head out on a 'sound walk'
Being outside is about using all our senses. A sound walk can be done in your backyard, the local park or even around your neighbourhood streets. They allow children to put their other senses on hold and focus on listening. A form of mindfulness, a sound walk will teach your child to pay attention to what’s happening right now. Focus on nature sounds, like birds chirping, the sound of crunching gravel under your feet, wind blowing through trees and bees buzzing around flowers. Stop often, close your eyes together and talk about what you can hear.
3. Learn to identify things in nature
Find a kid-friendly book for your local area with pictures of birds, insects, leaves, trees or flowers and go outside looking for them to identify. Need a closer look? Head out on a critter quest using Tiger Tribe’s Bug Spotter Kit to observe bugs and mini beasts up close. The transparent Bug Spotter is designed to safely catch and release garden creepy crawlies. It includes a magnifying lid for observing in more detail and an illustrated activity book with bug tips, best places to spot and how to identify different types of creatures.
Or if birds are more their thing, kids can make their own set of paper binoculars with the Bird Spotter kit, then head out for all manner of feathered discoveries in the backyard or local park.
4. Go on a nature hunt to inspire creative art projects
Get the crew together and head out into the great outdoors (your backyard, local park or bushland) to collect natural treasures. Keep an eye out for pinecones, gumnuts, seedpods, colourful leaves, feathers, seashells, flowers, bark, stones and sticks, but make sure you only grab what has fallen on the ground.
Be inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, an artist and environmentalist famous for creating temporary art in the great outdoors using found natural objects. Why not try a flora Mandala, by arranging your own found natural treasures in a repeated circular pattern on the ground. Or bring your collected objects inside for a nature inspired arts and crafts session. Use Tiger Tribe’s Silk Crayons to turn clean, smooth stones into vibrant and colourful Rock Pets.
5. Commit to a green hour
Once kids are inspired with fun ideas to get outside, they are ready to graduate to free ranging nature play! We first heard about this awesome idea through the US National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Quite simply, they encourage parents to set a goal for children to spend an hour of unstructured play outside, everyday. They call it the ‘green hour’ and advise that whether in the backyard, local park, at the beach or in a forest, time spent outdoors is essential not only for the development of young minds and bodies but is also the best way for young people to build a lifelong connection to nature, wildlife and the environment3.
At a time when families are grappling with an ever-changing normal, one of the best things we can do for ourselves and our children is to simply open the door and step outside.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out the Tiger Tribe Outdoor Activity Set - Back to Nature filled with great ideas to get kids off the couch, unplugged and outside exploring nature.
Moore, S.A., Faulkner, G., Rhodes, R.E. et al. Impact of the COVID-19 virus outbreak on movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and youth: a national survey. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act17, 85 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-020-00987-8
Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan, Nature Play Workshop for Families: A Guide to 40+ Outdoor Learning Experiences in All Seasons