The great outdoors is a fantastic place for children to play, develop and learn. Many children spend a lot of time indoors. With games consoles, television and iPads providing nonstop entertainment, there is little motivation to go outside and explore. However, the natural world is a beautiful and exciting place, and a love of nature can be fostered from a young age. It is a place to learn about the environment interactively, get active and play imaginatively. These eight activities are fun, accessible and can help children to develop a passion for nature.
Write a list of ten to twenty items that can be found in nature. You might include feathers, sycamore leaves, conker shells, acorns, daisies, dandelions, blades of grass or anything else you can find in your local area. Set a time limit and ask children to find as many items as they can. Use the collected items to create a big piece of nature art using grass or sand as a canvas.
Go somewhere with lots of wildlife, for examples birds, squirrels or deer. Ask the children to wander and spot as many different creatures as they can. Gather back together, and take turns acting like one of the animals that you have spotted. Everyone else should try to guess which animal the actor is imitating. Alternatively, select five different animals that move in very different ways. For example, you might choose a deer, a mouse, a pigeon, an ant and a fish. Set a race where the children have to begin by moving like an ant, then call out different animals and get them to switch between movements. The winner is the first person to cross the finish line while enacting each of the animals accurately.
Find a pond or small lake where you can access the water safely. Take some clear glass jars and a magnifying glass. Scoop some water into the jars and see how many plants and creatures you can find. Use the magnifying glass to find tiny insects. Be sure to tip the water back into the pond after you have examined it. Repeat this activity a few times to show how many different creatures and plants exist in one small body of water.
In a forest, gather sticks, twigs and small logs in a clearing. Take some rope with you to secure them. With small children, build a den together, binding sticks to make a tepee structure, regular den or even a tree house. If you have older kids, set a competition to see who can build the best structure. You might want to try camping in the dens. Take some tarpaulin to secure over the top of each structure to make them waterproof.
Pick a local nature spot and photograph it from the same perspective every month. Gather seasonal items such as wildflowers, fallen leaves and conker shells. Lay flowers and leaves between two handkerchiefs and press them in a heavy book for three days to preserve them. Create a scrapbook using the photographs and pressed items to show how the seasons affect nature in your local area.
Stargazing is a universal pleasure. Go camping or simply lie under the stars in a peaceful spot, for example a park or the countryside. See if your children can spot constellations or make up their own using the shapes they find in the stars. You can also make star maps by plotting the stars you see on a black piece of paper using a white or silver pen.
Go to a park, forest or even your garden and collect a selection of different leaves. Put a leaf under a piece of paper and colour over it with a crayon to create interesting textures and patterns. You can also spread paint on leaves and use them to print colourful shapes. Alternatively, use sturdy leaves as a template by drawing around them and trying to copy the veins and textures with a sketching pencil.
Find out what edible plants grow in your local area, for example blackberries, damsons or dandelion leaves. Keep safe by telling children that not all plants are edible and they should not eat anything they find without showing you first. Forage for food with a fun, child friendly recipe in mind. For example, blackberries can be baked into a crumble or eaten with meringue and yogurt. Dandelion leaves can be fried with batter to make tasty fritters.
These ideas are all free or very cheap. As children spend more time in nature, they will begin to develop their own games and become passionate about things they discover. These activities are designed to help children make contact with the natural world and understand that getting outdoors is a fun and worthwhile thing to do.