The time children spend outdoors has almost halved from the previous generation to today’s 7- to 11-year-olds. But being outside is important for children’s physical and mental development. It stimulates imagination and creativity, allows them to learn how the world works and creates a bond with nature that lasts well into adulthood. Studies have shown that children who play outside regularly are more physically active, more creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration.
But with housework and homework, school runs and smartphones competing for our attention, taking time to just be outdoors as a family can sometimes seem out of reach. For quality time together, take a few days off for a Center Parcs holiday set in stunning forest. And when time isn’t on your side, try some of these ideas for a quick dose of outdoor play with your little ones.
Winter is the best time of year for stargazing. Clear nights and dark evenings mean you can easily fit it in before children’s bed times. There are some great resources online that can help you find certain stars and tell little ones the stories behind constellations. Why not see if your children can spot their own shapes or characters in the sky?
- Build a nature scrapbook
Children love collecting, and building up a scrapbook of all the leaves, flowers, pebbles and conkers they find is a great way for them to learn about nature. A half hour stroll around the local park or even exploring the back garden can unearth some real treasures. Take rubbings of bark, stick in interesting leaves and draw pictures of shells. See if they remember the different names from one trip out to the next!
- Get in the garden
Believe it or not, what can be a backbreaking chore for some is a great learning experience for little ones. Many of the most tedious tasks – weeding, planting bulbs, watering – are perfect for little hands and they will get a real thrill out of seeing their own plants grow. Bigger projects like building a bumble bee nest or a wildlife-friendly corner can pay dividends later on when your children can while away time in the garden watching their creations fill with life.
- Play in the snow
Do you want to build a snowman? Probably not, but I bet your little ones do! Snow doesn’t often hang around in the UK, and the great thing about playing in the snow with children is it doesn’t take long – they burn off energy and get chilly quickly. So wrap up warm one afternoon after school and go stomping around in the white stuff. Try hunting for footprints from birds or cats and following their trail. After half an hour or so they’ll be clamouring for radiators and hot chocolate.
When you get children excited about nature from a young age, you open the world up to them. There isn’t always time for languorous rambles or trips to the beach, but it doesn’t take long to dig your fingers in the soil or find the smoothest pebble in the garden or simply stop and look upwards.
What are your suggestions for getting the family outdoors? Let us know in the comments.