While modern life is often stressful and parents feel exhausted taking their children from one frenzied activity to another, nature offers a stress-free alternative. A connection to life is the greatest gift we can give our children.
The wonders of nature
Simply by spending time outdoors, children can ‘come to their senses’. Nature offers a depth that children can’t get from watching TV or playing video games. Nature offers up scents and sounds. Different shades and textures can compete with the most intricate of toys. The texture of the bark is different from that of glossy leaves or earthy loam scattered over a newly planted flower bed. Children can hear birds sing or frogs croak. The rustle of leaves in the wind adds a different note. They get to balance while walking on stones and smell the scent of the leaves in the rain. Children also learn that they share their breath with many other living beings, both plant and animal, who live and imagine alongside them.
A deep sense of belonging
It’s not the ability to view nature that deepens a sense of belonging. It is having nature look back. We learn about climate change from posters and schools. Children hear about greenhouse gasses and the threat of plastic in oceans. They will even recite them. But this is not the same as seeing penguins on the Cape Town beaches swim out to sea, the baby blues sheltered between them. All of a sudden, chip packets in the water hold a different meaning. If all of life has value, if it is bright and alive, filled with beauty and wonder, then our children realise they are wonderful too, and that they too matter. As Theodore Rozak explains, children have a natural affinity for life. This affinity assists them in creating a deep sense of belonging to the world, even during times of crisis.
How to get your child to spend more time outdoors
Make it fun: Children learn about language by listening to the way we speak and explain things to them. In the garden, these can be flowers, blades of grass, crunchy leaves, sand/mud, and insects such as ants or butterflies. You can collect some of these objects and sit on a picnic blanket with your child and let her touch and explore the object.
Paint rocks from the garden: Dedicate some time to painting with your little one. Besides pictures and paper plates, you can also get creative and let your child paint rocks from the garden or large tins (such as old formula tins) to plant herbs or indoor plants. Not only are rocks fun to paint, but they can also be used as doorstops or to hold tablecloths down.
Mud cakes: One of the simplest activities, yet the most enjoyable for little ones. All you need is a muffin pan, some water, plenty of sand, and a spade and a spoon. Help your child mix the sand and water until it’s a thick, muddy consistency – like cake batter. Then, help your child spoon the gooey mixture into the muffin pans and pretend to “bake” them. Once you’ve let these dry in the sun, turn them out of the pans and decorate them with sticks, flowers, or whatever else you can find.