In summertime, the warm weather, increased hours of sunlight, and the absence of school open the door for all kinds of new, fun outdoor activities that may not be possible during the school year or in other seasons. Spending time in nature is both entertaining and healthy for you and your children. Sunlight gives us vitamin D, which has been scientifically proven to boost our moods and strengthen our immune systems. Exploring the outdoors also creates limitless fun, learning moments for children, and helps increase their knowledge of the world around them. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers suggestions for different ways that you and your child can explore nature together at no monetary cost1.
1. Go for a walk.
You don’t have to be on vacation or visiting a national park to take a walk or hike- start by visiting the nature right outside your child’s window! Whether this is around your neighborhood or at a nearby park, there is always something new to observe with your child. Discuss with them the different types of trees and plants that you see: How are the trees different from one another? What do their leaves, flowers, and/or seeds look like? Can you spot any birds? Encourage your child to ask questions- affirm their curiosity and turn any walk into a time to teach and amaze.
2. Look at the clouds.
Find somewhere you and your child can lie down– in the grass or on a sidewalk or driveway— and spend time watching the clouds together. Talk about the different shapes and pictures that you see in the clouds. Let it be a time of creativity and laughter.
3. Draw what you see.
Give your child a notebook or piece of paper, and ask them to draw something they observe outside. This can be anything from a tree near your house to a worm they find in the dirt. Encouraging them to draw the nature that they see, or doing so with them, helps them understand the wonderful complexity of nature and puts their creativity to paper. It will also create moments where you can affirm their artistic abilities and give them a sense of pride in what they (or both of you) have drawn.
4. Press flowers.
Go outside and see how many kinds of flowers you can find together. Discuss their varying shapes, colors, and scents. Choose one flower and take it home. At home, place the flower in between the pages of a heavy book. In a week or so, have your child open the book and check on it. The dry, pressed flower can make a beautiful decoration or a fun craft addition.
We often forget that nature is all around us, and we don’t have to be deep in the woods of a forest or on a mountain to learn about and enjoy nature with our children. But if you are looking for a nearby park or river to visit with your family, the National Park Service offers a locator to help you find parks that are closest to your home. Recognize the incredible ability that you have to help your children grow in their knowledge of the world around them and their appreciation for the beauty of all parts of nature.
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1 Satterlee, Donna, Grace Cormons, and Matt Cormons. "10 Ideas to Get You and Your Child Exploring Outdoors." Web log post. NAEYC for Families. NAEYC, 2013. Web.