How to engage your kids in nature?
Children’s Day is here, and yet again most of us would be thinking about what to do for our little ones. A kid’s day out at the movies and mall, or some quality time making their favourite food at home? Some fancy gift to woo the tiny tots, or some “sleep-over with friends” for the elder adolescents? Such queries may boggle our “parenting minds” this Children’s Day as we plan to lay out money and time to make them feel special. But do we realise that some of the best gifts we can offer our children is the gift of energy, the gift of positivity and the gift of “doing something different”? Wouldn’t it be an interesting and intriguing change for kids who are used to the YouTubes and iPads of the world? So, this Children’s Day why don’t we turn to Mother Nature, and get them engaged in natural environments? Here’s what to keep in mind while planning a naturEnthralling interaction this Children’s Day!
Why engage kids in nature?
But, first let’s take a pitstop and understand exactly why this is so important. A lot of research has shown us the benefits of nature exposure , about how “Nature Deficit Disorder” is a real thing. The reality is that when this exposure is inculcated into children’s schedule from an early age, it is immensely beneficial. Naturalizing outdoor learning environments foster child development intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically (Kellert, 2005). Creative forms of play in green areas enhance softer skills like creativity and problem-solving. In fact, nature-based experiential education is known to enhance academic performance too. Of course, these benefits are over and above the obvious ones like increased physical activity and stress reduction. Do we need any more convincing to take our children to the nearest park or forest, instead of the run-of-the-mill dinner-and-play date with our loved tiny ones?
How to get children involved in nature?
Many of us would have ourselves experienced the advantages of nature-immersion- the serene silence, the soothing winds, the meditative environment. But surely, we cannot expect kids to have the patience to observe a tiny insect, or listen to the jungle sounds while standing still for few minutes? This is not true, we grossly underestimate the capacity of children to be aware and awed by nature! Just that we need to find the right mechanisms to pique their natural curiosity in the right direction. So rather than scratching your heads in an attempt to get your child to like nature, here are some simple techniques to design nature-experiences for children this Children’s Day.
- Make it relevant to everyday life: Here is where the concept of “learning in one’s own backyard” evolved. Learning only happens if the subject-matter is perceived by the child or learner as being relevant to him or her. As humans, we naturally connect to aspects which we are familiar with in our daily lives. The more locally relevant the subject of learning, generally the higher is the interest and engagement level. Hence, to design a nature outing, kids should be introduced to explore and experience what’s around them. For example, take kids to a farm to learn about where our everyday bread comes from, or to a forest to observe the same city denizens and spot differences in their ways of life. Note that the area of relevance will expand as the child grows, from the backyard to nearby gardens, to the entire city and further, make sure to factor that in, as per age group.
- Create direct experiences through action: Rather than reading a poem on a forest walk, just get out in a forest and indulge in a live experience. Quit watching a YouTube video about soil composting, and try your hand at it practically. In short, get your hands dirty, quite literally! Design action-based activities to get all the senses working- touch the soil, listen to the sounds, use binoculars to search for birds, and so on. Move away from the virtual, and get real physical with nature.
- Encourage Action: Simply allowing children to “be” in nature may not give them the right direction. Make children interact with nature through organized events that encourage live action. For example, when planning a nature trail, set out an objective at the outset, it may be anything from counting the types of frogs seen (for younger kids) to photographing different types of birds (for older kids). Lay out the agenda, and ask your kids how they would achieve it, and make them do so for real. At the same time, be sure to leave some elements open-ended, this creates a sense of freedom and belonging. The power of free and spontaneous play is immense, children learn to take initiative. For this, parents must allow children to explore and initiative independently, and not intrude or get over-protective.
- Create social interactions: The wider the learning audience, the better it is! So why not offer to take out all your kid’s friends on a unique day-out this Children’s Day. Children learn best when they have fun, so get all the kid-pals together and plan some nature-fun. Design team learning-games based on nature. Some of the popular games you can choose from are nature-based treasure hunt (make sure children do not damage the environment or pick up things to take home), nature art (based on teams), vegetable painting, etc.
- Set aside time for reflection: All that nature-action is fine, but it is equally important to get kids to think about the ecosystem and environment. Ask your kids to interview natural subjects, so as to understand them better- questions about what there subject eats, how it lives, who it interacts with, who are its enemies and friends, how it is affected by humans. For example, a simple daily subject like an ant can provide so many life lessons. This will open up a child’s eyes to the conservation aspects, and help unravel some questions that really matter for the future. In short, getting kids to think and reflect about the current state of nature is sowing the seeds of conservation conscience.
Clearly, there is so much that we can do this Children’s Day. Once you develop this nature-interest, it is important you sustain it. For this, parents must act as role models to their kids. Research shows that having parents, teachers, and other role models who show an interest in nature can ‘predispose people to take an interest in nature themselves and later work for its protection’. Planting the seeds of nature-interest is hence, akin to planting the seeds for a better Blue Planet.
So now, where’s the need to invest so much in time, money, and energy to gift your child something “material” this Children’s Day? Give him or her the fruitful gift of “Curiosity and Conscience”, and you would be engaging your child not just for a day, but for a whole lifetime!
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