There's no need to wait for a trip to a national park. Nature is all around, if you know where to look.
As every parent knows, sending kids to play outside is harder than it sounds. There can be a lot of resistance and complaining, especially if it's not part of your regular routine, and if there are alluring screen-based distractions indoors. A backyard can be made more appealing if there are fresh and interesting ways to interact with it. This doesn't mean going out to buy fancy playground equipment, but rather working with what you have to give kids something to do. Richard Louv, author of the influential books, "Last Child in the Woods" and "Vitamin N", offers some good ideas in an interview with 24Life. I've also added a couple of my own suggestions.
1. Attract a hidden universe of critters. Find an old scrap board and lay it on the dirt. Come back several days later and lift it up to see what has gathered beneath. Identify the creatures with the help of a field guide.
2. Pick a special spot. Encourage kids to go to their special spot every day, to spend several minutes sitting in it and watching the world go by, becoming intimately acquainted with the wildlife around it. Says Louv,
“Know the birds that live there, know the trees they live in. Get to know these things as if they were your relatives … That is the most important thing you can do in order to excel at any skill in nature.”
3. Become a cloud spotter. Kids can lie on their backs and watch the clouds in the sky, learning how to identify the various types and what they mean for the weather. The UK Met Office has a guide to cloud spotting, available here.
4. Set up a display table. Under a sheltered overhang or porch, or even indoors if you wish, set up a small table where kids can collect their treasures found in nature. It can change by the month or season to reflect what's happening around you.
5. Dig in the dirt. For many kids, pure bliss can be found with a shovel and a patch of soft dirt. A bucket of water takes it to the next level. Every yard with little kids should have a designated 'mud pit' zone, where they're allowed free rein to excavate to their heart's content. They will find interesting things while doing so, like worms, bulbs, roots, rocks.