Since the kids are home and getting their class lessons done remotely, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers some wonderful ideas to keep them learning and having fun outdoors while maintaining the rules of social distancing:
Exploring nature while social distancing
Nature all around us. Nature exploration with proper social distancing can happen in your yard, a table-top garden, or even virtually (though not with all of the benefits).
Bringing out baby. Even infants and toddlers can play and learn in nature. If you will be in public spaces, it may be safest to keep them in a carrier or a stroller. If they are in your own private space, it’s fine to have them explore even more.
• Nature sculptures can be built with twigs, leaves, cones, rocks and more by sticking the collected items into a play dough base. Help your child put objects in the play dough and notice what kind of patterns are created by different items.
• Biking with the family in your neighborhood can be a good option if you can keep your distance from others during your ride. If you have a child bicycle trailer, get some exercise while enjoying the outdoors with your baby in tow.
• Playing in mud is very fun for young children and helps them develop their senses and motor skills. You can give your child old pots, pans, utensils, and other household tools to move, pour, and squish the mud for imaginary play.
Challenge older children. Keep older children and teens engaged outdoors.
• Create a nature journal so they can describe what they see from a comfortable spot outside. Encourage them to write how that makes them feel or draw what they see.
• Hold a nature scavenger hunt for the family. Include categories like plants, trees, animals, birds. Who can create the longest list of the signs of spring that they find? How many different flowers can you photograph?
• Have a ball. Kicking a soccer ball or playing catch together can be fine if you are apart from each other and don’t share any sports equipment with others outside your household.
The AAP reminds us of some other health benefits of being outdoors:
Getting outside provides more than a fun break for children. It is also good for their physical and mental health and development. For example:
Children who play and learn in nature can be healthier. Children play harder outdoors than indoors. Especially without the structure of preschool, school or afterschool activities, children especially need opportunities to move. Children who spend more time outdoors have improved motor development. More outdoor time is linked with lower obesity rates.
Children who play and learn in nature can be more engaged in learning. Playing outside promotes more curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Studies have found that children who spent more time in nature exploration had improved learning outcomes.
Children who play and learn in nature can show positive behavior. Research has found that when children spent time in natural settings they had less anger and aggression. Impulse control also improves. This might be especially important when normal routines have changed for children.
Children who play and learn in nature are mentally healthier. Stress and depression are reduced for all people who spend time in nature. Children show increased focus and reduced symptoms of for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
We can all stay safe when we go outdoors AND take extra time to care for the world around us. Nature has a way of taking good care of you, too:
Take advantage of the healing power of nature—in your own backyard or on a walk. Just remember to follow local public health guidance and keep at least 6 feet from others outside your family. Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer once you return from your adventure. Getting outdoors, being in nature, and moving our bodies is good for everyone!