A big goal in my family with my children is to let them experience a natural childhood. To us that means, playing outside, getting dirty, and not relying on “stuff” to entertain them but to be able to entertain themselves. For people who do not have young children you might think this comes naturally. All children are born with this ability, right? Wrong. In some ways they are able to entertain themselves with anything anywhere but it is also something they have to learn and practice. Once a child is introduced to an easy source of entertainment such as TV, Ipad, game boys (is that what they are called these days?) or smart phones, they will gravitate towards it instead of coming up with their own way to play. Humans are lazy. Humans are always trying to make life easier and children are no exception. children love to say “I am bored”. I remember getting into really big trouble for saying that when I was young and even in some occasions I was sent to bed.
How do we help our children learn to play? How do we, as their parents, stop doing what comes natural to us and stop being lazy? Here are a few things that we do in my family. I hope this can help inspire you to let your children learn and grow naturally.
1. Water Table – No matter where you live you can have a water table. In the city or the country or suburbia, everyone has an outdoor space where a water table can claim some ground. It does not have to be big, fancy or even a true “water table”. Just a bucket with water in it works just the same. Children love water. They can learn so many skills and concepts just by playing in water. Etc. pouring, making whirl pools, splashing, scooping, what floats, what sinks, and imaginative play.
2.Real Wood Building Blocks – My family and I go on hikes and nature walks all the time. Along our hikes we collect (shh) pieces of wood from trees that have been cut down. A lot of times the people who cut down the trees make a few slivers or small pieces in the process that I scoop up and bury at the bottom of our backpacks. We take them home, dry them out, sand them down, and put a coating of varnish on them. Then I add them to our sandbox, water table, or just lay them out on the lawn for their imaginations to explore.
3. Climb – This one scares me. This one is hard for me to do. I am learning to let my babies grow and let them climb. Climbing really truly helps develop children s muscles and brains. They learn and grow so much in the process of climbing. whether it is stairs, trees, logs, hills, ladders, rocks etc. Children must climb. having said that, it does not mean we cant stand there under neath them with a hand hovering under their bottoms making sure they do not take a nasty fall.
4. Bike rides – pretty self explanatory. It does shock me when I find out how many children entering kindergarten do not own a bike. Bikes are great ways to get to know neighborhood kids and for a child to gain independence. Children are more likely going to stay physically active if they own a bike.* Bikes are all over craigslist and at garage sales. Even second hand stores have them. Just like shoes, I never buy my kids brand new. They grow so fast. Plus bikes are expensive brand new.
5. Play dates anywhere but inside. Parks and water parks are great places to meet friends and their children. I have even started to be creative and I am ditching parks and meeting friends at the beach with no toys, forest picnics, River paths on their bikes, or a huge soccer field with a bunch of balls. Children find things to play with. Sticks, shells and sea weed make great boats and can decorate sand castles. When it is raining just bundle up and put on your rain gear and rubber boots and go puddle jumping.
6. Get Dirty. That is why God invented Baths and Soap. Let your children get dirty. Let them feel comfortable with mud and sand under their finger nails. So many times I have stripped my children at the front door of all their clothes and then plopped them straight in the tub. After a quick hose down with the shower head they then enjoy a relaxing bubble bath. It makes a little more laundry but what is one more load when there are already 9 waiting for you?
7. Birds – bring bird seed to the park or the pond and feed those ducks and birds. Or better yet, bring the birds to you. Pinterest has a lot of great DIY Bird feeder ideas. There is bound to be one that interests you. My children love birds! Because there is a mouse problem where I live we have a hummingbird feeder instead of a bird seed feeder. But I do bring a bag of bird seed with me when we go on long walks for the children to give the birds.
8. No Toy Time – This one is hard. But I love it! I block off a few times a week where my children are in a room where they need to play with no toys. I have been participating in this strange practice with them. We dance, wrestle, have balancing competitions, pretend to do karate or martial arts and sometimes just play games like I spy or “Simon says.” Try it. Its a good practice for the whole family. TV can be entertaining and a useful tool in those times when you just need a 30 minute break from your non napper or you just need to make dinner without holding a toddler. But please be aware of what they are watching. Be aware of how much time they are watching it. Be picky, protective, and precise about what you are letting them watch. I like the watch it with my children. Especially because my kids are not yet school age and have so many questions. We have a computer in the Kitchen and I let them watch it while I make dinner. That way I am watching it too and we can discuss what is being watched.
9. Nature hunts – This one is classic but I like to give it my own twist. We go for a walk and collect things that look interesting. Pine cones, leaves, sticks, moss, etc. Then we would take them home and put them in a shallow Tupperware container and, here is the best part, I add some plastic or wood animals to the mix. This always seems to generate natural play. My son loves this one. He has the best imagination and he loves animals. I have a bunch of small ones that I keep in the diaper bag for when we are out. I bring them camping too. So simple and so fun!
10. This one is my sons Favorite one. The hose. Water. We bring out big rocks and dig holes in the dirt and he builds dams and rivers. He could honestly do it for hours. It is so simple and yet so fun! Just make sure that everyone around is okay with getting wet. Of everything that he uses the hose for, getting me wet is his favorite.
I am looking into getting more areas of our lives filled with nature. My main priority is to get my children playing. Playing is so key to every aspect of their cognitive and physical development. Learning to play with Nature is my second goal. I am hoping to add more things to my list of how I integrate nature into their day to day life. I really want my children to be able to become more independent from toys and electronics. I want their imaginations to always be going. Toys and electronics have their roles but I really want to ensure that it is my children controlling them, not the other way around.
* I realized I made a few statements that sounds like I was stating a fact. The only way I have to back up anything I have said is through my life experience. Non of this is based on studies or tests. It is just my observations as a Mom and an Early Childhood Educator. I have been working with and around children for over 10 years and these are the things I have observed. Plus, I do remember being a child:) Some days my husband may argue that I still am a child.