Outdoor access may be limited these days, but there are still some things you can do.
These are tough days for parents with young kids. The usual outlets for energy and companionship are absent, and many families are cooped up in homes with limited access to the outdoors. Still, keeping kids connected to nature despite the circumstances is a worthwhile endeavor, as it allows them to get active, stimulates their minds, enjoy the healthy fresh air, and serve as a reminder of all the wonderful things we'll be able to do once this time passes.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (reviewed here) and Vitamin N, has some great ideas for nature activities with kids, for families at various stages of confinement and in different living arrangements. I've shared some of these below, along with several of my own suggestions. Please share any ideas you have in the comments below.
If you have a backyard:
1. Have a digging spot. Give your kid a designated zone that can become a 'mud hole' or play area for toy trucks, shovels, and buckets. You could also order delivery of a mound of dirt from a construction or gardening company, and let the kids play in it.
2. Create a special 'sitting spot'. This is a place that, in the words of nature educator Jon Young, you or your child will get to know intimately: "Know it by day; know it by night; know it in the rain and in the snow, in the depth of winter and in the heat of summer. Know the birds that live there, know the trees they live in. Get to know these things as if they were your relatives." Louv says kids will feel less lonely if they have a special spot like this.
3. Build a fire. Kids should play with fire; it's one of the elements of risky play that's so crucial to their emotional and physical development. Create a campfire location in your yard and show them how to build the fire, starting with newspaper and kindling, and feeding it with larger pieces of dry wood. Cook your lunch over it, or roast some marshmallow.
4. Set up a bird feeder, or several. Maybe build one together, if you can. Fill with different kinds of seeds and wait to see what birds they attract. You'll be able to watch them from indoors, too.
If you can't go outside:
5. Watch from a window. Don't underestimate the wealth of interesting observations that can be made from a window, if you're patient and strategic. Show your kids how to watch birds, clouds (guess at the shapes, talk about different types), stars (if you're lucky!), and other wildlife. Have them keep a nature journal of the things they spot day to day. Having a bird feeder makes this more interesting.
6. Build a fort. You might not be able to have a special sitting spot outside, but the next best thing is an indoor version, especially if it's made beside a window and offers a private view of the outside world. Make it from blankets, chairs, or boards.
7. Blow bubbles. This is an endlessly fun activity for young children, and they can spend a lot of time doing it. Buy some of the broad bubble nets and put a washbasin of solution on a balcony or front step.
8. Camp out. Of course, the ideal option is to camp out in a backyard, but if you don't have one, consider a balcony, deck, fire escape, or even a room inside the house. Louv suggests, "Make s’mores, play flashlight tag, and make shadow puppets on the tent wall. Encourage them to run into the house for provisions from the refrigerator, and back out again."
9. Create a garden. People with backyards can plan out their spring planting for a vegetable garden. Those inside should bring as many plants inside as they can or plant seeds for an indoor container garden.
10. Go for a hike. If you're not quarantined or sheltering in place, take your kid for a walk every day, if you can. It doesn't have to be far, but the more natural the surroundings, the better. Take binoculars. Set a goal of spotting 10 animals or insects. Talk about what you see and write it down in the nature journal.