Home with the kids? Connect with nature for learning and stress relief

How to get your family’s nature fix during a shelter-in-place

By Holland Gistelli, Education Specialist

As we face this global coronavirus pandemic together, our communities are learning to cope with major disruptions to our daily lives. These are stressful and confusing times for everyone, including our children. With social distancing, shelter-in-place orders, school closings, and the suspension of all “non-essential” business operations, families are looking for ways to keep healthy, active, and connected.  

There’s no better time to make a household commitment to connecting with nature. Being in nature has been proven to be highly beneficial for both our mental and physical health, as you can read more about in an earlier blogpost. This article is a revised spin, accommodating for the times, in which we’ve compiled some tips and resources to help inspire you and your family to get outdoors during the current public health measures. 

It’s important to schedule outdoor time. Without our typical work and school schedules in place, it could be easy to lose track of time and forget to get outside. Plan specific times to get outdoors to make sure other priorities don’t get in the way. Try a “Green Hour” commitment with support from National Wildlife Federation’s resources: https://www.nwf.org/Kids-and-Family/Connecting-Kids-and-Nature 

Fairy houses! A great way to stimulate your kids’ architectural insights and connect them with nature. This is something you can do in your own backyard, too!

Where to go when everything’s closed?

Go for a walk around your neighborhood 

Play “I Spy” to make a game out of what you can notice along the way. Check the weather forecast together so you can plan to dress appropriately and be comfortable on your journey. Just remember to maintain respectful distance from others you may encounter during your walk.

Right at home

Explore your backyard, front yard, or study the weather or night sky from your driveway. It’s also possible to engage with nature from indoors. Check out our ideas listed below for connecting with nature while indoors.

While you’re outside, try these activities

  • Practice tuning into your senses – ask your child what they notice—see, smell, hear, or feel. Take turns focusing on one sense at a time, try closing your eyes to focus on sounds and smells. You’ll be amazed at the wonders you can find together.
  • Create a nature journal – an old notebook, or a stack of papers folded or stapled together can quickly become your go-to tool for exploring. Bring it with you for each adventure and record your discoveries. Note the date, time, and  weather, list and sketch things you notice, write questions you wonder, create a leaf rubbing, or write a poem. 
  • Nature scavenger hunt – make a list of items to search for before you go out, objects or adjectives such as: something purple, something soft, a creature that crawls, a mysterious object, a rock shaped like something else. Ask kids questions to have engaging discussions about their discoveries. This can be done indoors too!
  • Grow a garden – try growing something edible together like cherry tomatoes or strawberries. Track your plant as it grows from seed, to sprout, to plant, flower, and fruit. Give kids the chance to help with the tasks of planting, watering, and weeding. And of course, pick and taste the fruits of your labors!

Can’t get outside? Not a problem! Consider these ideas

Your window can be a gateway to nature keep a weather journal or neighborhood bird list on the windowsill – make a shared habit to update it each day, make predictions of what you may see tomorrow! Grow a seedling in the window, measure and record it’s growth each day. Sketch what you notice. 

Watch a nature show or film together – there are many high quality options to be found on streaming services. Check out this list compiled on KidWorldCitizen.org. The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is sharing a new film every couple days on their website here. When viewing with kids, keep in mind that some elements of these films can be found disturbing. For example, intense predator-prey interactions or the tragedies of habitat loss. Consider pre-viewing, and be prepared to help them process challenging topics with supportive discussion. 

Online nature exploring – there are so many great organizations and websites with kid-friendly and educational nature facts, games and even wildlife livestreams! Here’s a few places to get started:

  • Google Earth National Parkswith 360 degree views of famous vistas, you will feel like you are actually there! 
  • Check out these lists of live streams from zoos and aquariums and wildlife cameras. Have your kids “adopt” an animal: research it’s habitat and habits, and then watch the livestreams to observe them in real-time.
  • At the California Academy of Sciences website you can learn about what their scientists study, view interesting videos, species highlights, and animal webcams, and find activities and lesson plans to do at home
  • At Pepperwood, we are currently working on ways to bring our expertise and resources to you virtually. Stay tuned to our social media, e-news, and website for announcements!

Lastly, we wanted to share a few general mental health and coping resources. It can be difficult to talk with children about this health crisis, and there is a lot of overwhelming information that is hard to escape. The National Association of School Psychologists has a very helpful page which outlines how to communicate with children about coronavirus. Similarly, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has guides for infectious disease outbreaks, including one on talking with children, and one for coping with stress.

Now, and always, we hope you may enjoy some quality time in nature with your family. The wildflowers are blooming, springtime birds are abundant, and we are so grateful for the beautiful ecosystems that sustain us!

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