Many studies have shown that spending time outdoors can be linked to less stress, improved creativity and better health. With that in mind, I feel no guilt about leaving the dishes in the sink after dinner to explore all that nature has to offer this time of year. And if your family is anything like mine, the warmer weather means spending lots of time in the great outdoors.
Need some inspiration to engage your children in outdoor exploration? Below are some of my favorite activities that work well for children of all ages.
Roll a log
Rolling a rotting log often reveals an undiscovered ecosystem below. Critters such as pill bugs, salamanders and earth worms can be seen scurrying to safety. Closer examination will often reveal fascinating fungi, insect tunnels and more! Just remember to replace the log as it was found.
Place a white sheet or container under some bushes and gently shake the foliage. A variety of insects will likely be found on the sheet, and they can be carefully placed in a bug box for closer inspection.
Another fun insect project is to build an insect aspirator. Using a plastic cup, plastic bag, a rubber band and two straws, you can create what we like to call “the bug sucker.” When you find an insect you want to observe more closely, place one straw near the insect and suck through the other straw.
Return all insects to where they were found when finished with your observations.
Give the kids a magnifier
A whole new world is opened up simply by handing a magnifying glass to a child. Sharon Woods’ youngest day campers will spend half the morning examining the world with their newly discovered tool, loudly announcing every discovery they make: “This leaf looks fuzzy! Look at this bug’s eyes! What is this? Wow!”
Hand out some plain paper and crayons, and then set the kids free. Challenge them to find as many different bark patterns as they can. If you have a simple field guide, sit down and help them identify the tree. I am always amazed at how even very young children can begin using these guides as a simple matching activity.
Create a nature journal
Having a dedicated nature journal has been a wonderful experience for my children. We often take our journals on hikes and encourage the kids to write or draw in them when they need to take a rest. It can be used with all of the above activities to help make them more meaningful, and we often glue in a photo from the day, making it a keepsake the kids enjoying flipping through.
So get outside, bust some stress and make memories with your family and friends. While you’re out in the parks, stop by and say hello to any of the Great Parks’ naturalists. We are always willing to answer your questions and direct you toward your next adventure. Happy explorations!
Stephanie Morris, Naturalist, Sharon Woods