Now that the heat of summer finally seems to be easing up, getting outside to play is easier and more fun than ever. Especially after a long day of sitting inside a classroom, outdoor play is not only enjoyable for kids, but it’s important to their overall health. Recent studies show that the average American child spends as few as four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, while spending over seven hours a day in front of a screen. And as technology continues to become an ever-growing part of our daily lives, it’s more important than ever to make sure we find creative ways to keep our kids connected with nature throughout outdoor play.
Playing outdoors helps to keep kids happy and healthy – and it can actually help to reduce anxiety and stress and keep creativity flowing. Fortunately, there are countless ways to make sure your kids stay connected with nature through outdoor play throughout the year. Here are six tips for keeping your kids connected with nature this fall.
Ask for help on a gardening project and if you have younger kids, get them some child-sized garden tools of their very own. Let your child pick out their favorite type of flower or vegetable to grow in the garden. Point out the benefits of planting flowers and plants native to Richmond. Watch the joy in their eyes when they see a butterfly land on a butterfly weed. Have them keep an eye on the plant’s progress and water it when needed. If you choose to plant vegetables, you’ll also have a chance to talk about where our food comes from. A bonus? You may even get them to eat their vegetables! Not only gardening help kids to connect with nature, but it will give them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
2. Outdoor Painting or Decorating
Thinking of repainting that fence out back or making something crafty to display outside? Let the kids help you with an outdoor painting or decorating project. Kids love to help paint and build things and they can — within limits — make a mess outside. Completing an outdoor project with your children will make them proud and help them enjoy the outdoors. Feeling extra adventurous? Choose an outdoor project that incorporates a bold, sophisticated color palette and have your kids help choose the colors and material for a true sense of ownership.
3. Outdoor Adventures
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend time outdoors with your children, especially here in Richmond. For example, what child doesn’t like the zoo? Try a trip to Richmond Metro Zoo or local farm. Stop and tell them an interesting fact about each animal. Connect the animals to their favorite stories such as The Lion King or games like Hungry Hippo. Take them on an adventure to the Meadow Farm Museum to learn in a living history presentation what life was like in rural Virginia in the 1860s. Pack a lunch and enjoy the picnic areas. Continue the history lesson with a visit to the Canal Walk. They’ll have so much fun, they won’t even realize they’re getting some healthy exercise along the way!
4. Hiking and Camping
Living in the Richmond area offers perks many other cities don’t have. There are numerous parks and trails to explore. Take them on a daytime hike, and go hunting for fossils. Start with Pocahontas State Park just south of Richmond. After a hike, take them canoeing. They’ll enjoy it so much, they may even want to return to camp for a weekend. This is a great opportunity to teach them about animals in the wild, as well as plants and flowers they shouldn’t disturb.
5. Rainy Day and Snow Fun
Instead of searching for indoor rainy day activities, or snow day activities when the time comes, encourage your children to get outside and play in the rain and snow. After all, connecting with nature isn’t just for sunny days. Kids need a chance to splash in puddles and play in the mud (at least every once in a while). Let your kids have a snowball fight or build a snowman on a cold, snowy, winter day. While this kind of weather may not be the number one choice of adults, kids will love it.
6. Backyard Games
Think outside the Xbox! Make your backyard inviting. Set up a volleyball or badminton net and encourage them to invite friends over to play. Set up a picnic table with lemonade and your home will be the one the neighborhood kids flock to. Go a step further, and set up a video projector outdoors for night movies. Have children bring their sleeping bags with them for an outdoor gathering they’ll remember. And, of course, remind them that nature isn’t always friendly – keep plenty of bug spray on hand!
There’s an adventure waiting for every child outside. By sowing the seeds and creating a nature bug now, you’ll keep them from being couch potatoes later in life.