The links between mental health and time in nature are well documented. I think it’s really important for people to have a strong connection to the natural world around them, and when people have a strong connection to something and really understand it then they will find it natural to protect it.
Here are my top 5 free, fun activities to do with children in nature to promote mindfulness, self-care and a deeper connection to nature and the world around us
1) Whatever the Weather. It’s hard when it’s rainy and unpleasant outside, it really is. I find it hard to get motivated to get the hats and gloves and waterproofs on the kids, but it’s important to show that we can’t write off “bad” days in favour of “good”. Look for the best in every day! Puddle splashing, watching wild waves, kite flying etc. if you do need to stay inside look out of the window and spot cloud shapes, play raindrop racing down the window with your fingers or play i-spy.
2) Bug Hunting. Connecting with all nature and learning and understanding that all living beings have their own rights and lives and purpose is incredibly powerful. Make bug houses out of cardboard boxes, sticks etc. and fill them with dry leaves, small twigs, bark, moss etc. put in a little saucer of water for drinking or as a pool, use a big leaf as a rain shelter, make tunnels and play areas, let your imagination run wild! Then go and find some creatures to live in the world you’ve created for them. Ladybirds, woodlice, earwigs, spiders, worms – whatever you like! Take pictures. Draw them. Get the kids to study what worked and what didn’t (did they like the swimming pool?) and to think about what these creatures like their environments to be like.
3) Journey sticks. Encourage your child to find a good, sturdy stick. Not too big or too little. Decorate it with things you find around you in nature. A good way is to wrap your stick with wool or string and then you can slide treasures in for safekeeping, or add longer sections of wool to tie larger things too. Go for a walk and collect things along the way, adding them to your stick as you go. When you get home, go through all the things on the stick and recount where you found them and what they remind you of. Feathers, leaves, litter, stones, anything goes!
4) Mixing. The mud pie is a nostalgic, quintessential feature of childhood! Mixing, stirring, creating “potions” and “cooking” are all excellent garden and nature activities which promote motor skills and discovery. Fill a few bowls with whatever you have to hand, leaves, stones, dirt, dried pasta/peas/rice, water (perhaps with food colouring added), cornflour, grass etc. find a bucket/large bowl/suitable receptacle and offer a few measuring cups or wooden spoons. Encourage kids to find things to mix around the garden or on a walk, experiment or just enjoy making a mess! (note: this is SUPPOSED to be a messy activity)
5) Foraging. One for slightly older children, but all ages can enjoy this activity with correct supervision. Finding food in the wild is so exciting and really strengthens a person’s connection with nature. Foragers quickly learn respect, discipline and trust. Start simply, blackberries, wild garlic, things you already know. Plant fruits and vegetables in your garden and teach your children what they are, how they’re used, what they can and can’t eat and then let them browse as they play. Learn together to identify what you find. Go on hunts – a walk can be more enticing with a goal – and when you’ve found something then take it home, check and double check, and feel the satisfaction of being certain of your identification.
I hope you enjoyed this list and gives some of the activities here a go! Don’t worry about being perfect, or clean, or feel obligated to go outside for at least xyz hours a day, just do what you can and what feels right for you and your family.
If you need to talk to someone about yours or your child’s mental health, please contact your GP – there is so much support available and it all starts with making that first step.
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