3 Fun Ways to Connect Kids with Nature at Home
Some days, (especially these days) keeping kids busy is about as difficult as convincing them to eat their leafy greens (that’s a topic for another day though). As we write this, we too are sitting at home, balancing our workloads with keeping kids occupied, planning virtual birthday parties and happy hours, all the while, longingly peering out the window. Our hiking boots are beckoning and our kiddos are asking (begging really) to go to the skatepark, soccer field, or playground. They are yearning to be outside just as much as we are.
Staying connected to nature and the outdoors is good for the soul (and the brain – read more about that over here). And, at KEEN, we think it's so important for kids to make those connections and become planet stewards for life. (That's why we have a youth grant program dedicated to nonprofits that get kids outside.)
When you and the fam can’t actually go do the adventuring you want to do, here are a few activities to keep kids engaged and in touch with nature (without the actual “being outside” part).
1. Grab some binoculars or use your “eagle eyes” for a game of Nature Bingo
Yup, this is exactly what it sounds like. Replace those classic number-bingo-boards with things you see in nature and use your eyes as the bingo calls. Playing Nature Bingo is fun, but making up your own bingo boards is maybe the best part.
1. To start, gather up some supplies. Paper or cardboard for the boards. Some writing instruments (we recommend crayons or colored pencils. Why not make these a work of art!?). And some small rocks, beads, or buttons to use as markers (so that you can reuse your boards again and again)
2. Next, establish where you will be playing. The backyard? In the car on a road trip? Sitting in front of the big living room window? Begin to create a list of plants, animals, and other things found in nature that you might see from this vantage point. Get creative! Add some specifics like pink flower, flowering bush, jagged leaf, or brown mushroom. Leave some more general like bird’s nest, tree, animal, or insect. Try throwing in a few action squares too such as falling feather, walking bird, buzzing bee, or even the smell of flowers.
3. Then, have kids create a grid of 5 squares by 5 squares on paper or cardboard, filling in each square with a different thing from the list. Just like with traditional bingo, everyone’s boards should be different. For kids who can’t write yet, give them a hand or have them draw things from the list.
4. Once each square is filled in, establish family rules. Is there going to be a moderator that calls out when they see things so others can mark off squares? Or you might choose to play that only the person who first spots the thing can mark it off.
5. Finally, grab whatever you are using as markers, pour yourself a refreshing beverage, and head to the backyard, balcony or biggest window in the house and get ready for a lively game of Nature Bingo.
Need more Bingo ideas? Create whole boards just for birds, bugs, or pollinators. Or make a board specific to your neighborhood. Add Mr. Smith walking his dog or your neighbor mowing her lawn. Each natural environment is unique, so get creative and add things that only happen in your area.
A KEENer and her son playing Nature Bingo in their Portland, Oregon driveway. (Yes, rainbow cloud def counts for "cool cloud!")
2. Get your hands a little dirty and make a nature wreath!
Kids love to get creative (and make messes). Why not let them loose at the dining room table with some outdoor-inspired wreath/crown making?
1. First, head out to the yard, or gather some supplies on your dog walk. Twigs, ferns, vines, leaves, and flowers are all great wreath-making materials. Be mindful to only gather supplies from the ground, and only pick flowers and leaves from plants with permission. You’ll also need some string or wire and wire cutters to hold the wreath together.
2. Next, get wreathing! Have kids sort their findings into piles so they have a good collection of bendy twigs or ferns to use as the wreath base. Help kids start to form their creation into a wreath shape (however your kiddo defines wreath shape!). Secure the shape by wrapping wire around the shape in a few spots.
3. Now, let ‘em go wild! Let kids tuck their favorite nature specimens into the spaces between the twigs. Leaf, fern, or flower stems can easily get wedged in for a layered look.
4. Lastly, show and tell! Have kids share what they included in their wreaths. What type of leaves did they include? What is their favorite part?
Don’t have access to a yard but still want to make a wreath? Paper works too! Look through old magazines or catalogs, or do some internet searching to find pictures of flowers and leaves. What are the parts of a flower? What are different leaf shapes? Have kids create a collage wreath or recreate things found outdoors with paper for a nature-inspired wreath.
3: Go on safari from the comfort of your living room.
Just like radio and television were gateways to other worlds for past generations, kids of today look to the internet for information, stories, and experiences. A strategically placed camera across the globe can bring nature inside and expand your little one’s horizons all from the sofa (or the blanket fort that has taken over your living room). Check out Explore.org, a philanthropic live nature camera network and documentary film channel that shares live footage of nesting eagles, honey bee hives, tropical reefs, and yes, even cuddle puddles of puppies. Put on your sun hat or grab your snorkel gear, and get ready for an indoor safari adventure or deep sea dive! Plus, since the footage streams in real-time, it's sort of like really being out in nature. You never know when a mama bear is gonna start chomping on berries or an elephant is going to sneeze right in front of your eyes!
Pro tip: Have your kids (or you?) had too much screen time? Put on the video just for the sound. Chirping birds and yes, even grunting rhinos are strangely zen-like.
You and your family love being outdoors. It’s a place to connect with each other, discover new things, and experience the many wonders of planet earth. But let’s face it, schedules, weather, and other unforeseen circumstances don’t always cooperate. When life keeps you indoors, what are other nature-inspired activities you and your family enjoy? Tag @KEEN and share with us!