How often do your kids go outside to play? When I grew up, my parents owned several acres out in the country – there was never a shortage of activities that we could do outside. Between the animals, woods, garden, and outbuildings, it seemed like there was always something to discover. We even tried sitting out on the roof of the porch like the kids in Dawson’s Creek (can you tell I’m still watching the series on Netflix?). One of my major mom guilt factors now is that I feel like my kids aren’t getting enough time outside. Between my responsibilities, the baby’s nap, and my husband’s work schedule, there are days when I don’t get them outside. And I feel awful about it. It’s partly because we live in town – I don’t feel comfortable letting my little ones wander without an eye on them constantly. As they’re getting older, that’s not as worrisome, but still – not enough outdoors time. So when I received a copy of the Nature Play at Home guide for parents and caregivers in my email from the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative of North Carolina State University, my interest was duly piqued.
It turns out I’m not the only parent that’s concerned about my children getting the benefits of learning about nature. We’ve all heard that the obesity epidemic in the US is affecting children – and greatly. And then there’s also the increased rates of children diagnosed with psychiatric disorders like ADHD, ODD, and OCD. I’m one of those parents that’s adamantly against medicating children and I generally assume that when my kids are acting out there’s a reason behind it – usually because they’re bored or I’m not doing my part to teach them the right lessons. But I’ve found that when I prepare projects or “lessons” for my kids to play and interact with, they’re not only learning but they’re also doing things that keep their brains more occupied than watching a movie (which is not to say that they don’t watch movies. Shamefully, I must confess that they watch more than their fair share). So the idea of creating a nature play space for my boys using the materials and locations that I already have was very intriguing.
Since we live in Indiana, I can almost guarantee that there will be some winter days that are too cold or too windy for me to take my boys out. This year it won’t be as bad because my youngest is now over 1 year (sniff, sniff, I was so not ready for his birthday last weekend!), so I won’t be as worried as when he was a newborn last year. The guide-book from the NWF and NLI describes how we can use a space like our screened in front porch to create a great nature discovery area for kids. There’s even information on how we can use the backyard to let the kids discover different types of nature than what we see every day here in Indiana. For those living in the city or in apartments, the guide does a great job of providing examples and explaining how techniques can be adapted to a balcony – there’s a way for every child to learn more about the outdoors and about nature. If you have a community garden, playgroup, childcare setting, or other group site, there are even ideas on how to make larger outdoor play spaces for entire communities.
The best part about the Nature Play at Home guide is that it’s a free download. Yep, that’s right – all this information is entirely free for us to use. Not only will it help our kids develop their imaginations, get them playing outside, hopefully reduce obesity and medicalization risks (I always hope for these reductions with every activity!), the advice is free and offered to all parents and caregivers. If you would like to grab your own copy of the guide, simply click here and fill out your name, email address and zip code. You can opt in or out of future mailings, and download the guide for free. I would LOVE to see a nature play center in my community, but for now just preparing one for my own kids will have to do!
Disclosure: I have received no compensation for posting about this free guide. I received the information about the availability of the guide and downloaded it on my own.
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