A few Guidelines for Parents & Mentors
Great for busy parents, Nature Clubs for Families have been sprouting up all over the country. Families gather to hike, play or camp with others from their neighborhood, church or school. They’re an opportunity to socialize with other families while playing and learning together. Learn more about Nature Clubs for Families, get ideas for seasonal outdoor activities and lots of other great ideas on the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Families Network website.
The Future of Childhood
We believe that all parents want what is best for their children! We also know that our world is changing more quickly than ever before, and sometimes we are swept into new lifestyles before we realize it! Who would have imagined thirty years ago that we would need to encourage parents to send their children outside to play! But, with children spending between forty and sixty hours per week attached to electronic umbilica, and the balance of their time scheduled between school, sports and other extracurricular activities, educators, doctors and early child care experts are beginning to see a myriad of negative effects ranging from reduced cognitive development as a result of overly structured activities that do not stimulate problem solving and creativity, to childhood obesity, reduced muscle development and balance and other physical ailments.
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as a right of every child and the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth”. The AAP goes on to say that “even those children who are fortunate enough to have abundant available resources and who live in relative peace may not be receiving the full benefits of play. Many of these children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play”.
We hope that your family will take a step back from the hurried lifestyle to which we have become accustomed, and recognize the need for all of us, but especially our children, to have free time for play! Here are a few ideas to get your kids started – once they’re out there, we predict that they’ll have plenty of their own ideas!
If you live in a house, create a child-friendly backyard.
Give children a place on the porch, deck or in the bedroom where they can display nature treasures that they find and want to keep.
Provide simple tools to aid discovery – kids love tools! Include a bug box, trowel, magnifier, etc.
When you take children to parks and other natural areas, allow them to explore. Let them decide which trails to take. Stay nearby for safety, but don’t interfere or help unless asked.
Encourage plenty of time outside. Consider taking a walk to the library, store or post office instead of driving.
If a child asks or remarks about a landmark or natural feature you drive past often, find out more about it and go for a visit.
Take advantage of our natural resources, like the Ohio River and its tributaries! Take children canoeing, kayaking or fishing.
Take a few leaves from different trees while the children are not looking. Give them the leaves and ask them to find which trees they came from.
Provide a tree identification book to help kids learn about the trees in their own neighborhood.
In the fall, leave the fallen leaves down for awhile so kids can run around and shuffle through them.
Rake up a big leaf pile and let them demolish it. If they’re not pre-schoolers, leave the rake out so they can rebuild it if they want.
If you have an appropriate area, let older children build a campfire in the backyard. Set safety rules, then stay away while they and their friends discuss “hot” topics. Check for safety by looking out the window or wandering out to ask if they need more snacks.
Put out bird feeders that can be seen easily from windows. Let children help feed the birds. Keep a bird book by the window to help them identify what they see.
Make up challenges for children to do outside, similar to the Survivor television show. This is a guaranteed kid pleaser, especially if there is a reward (a “gift” of time with Mom or Dad, or perhaps a night off from helping with the dishes).
Download the entire “Grow Outside Guide to Outdoor Play” to print out at home or have as a reference.