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10 Ways To Get Kids Off Screens And Into Nature

ways
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Clockwise from above: Free play in nature allows for imagination and creativity; Foraging for mulberries; Exploring in nature; Collecting flowers on the first day of spring.


ways
Photo by Maude Farrugia
ways
Photo by Maude Farrugia
ways
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

In a world dominated by screens big and small, we all need a little nudge sometimes to switch off, look up and get outside. A growing body of evidence tells us that it’s imperative that children get plenty of ‘vitamin N’ (nature connection) in order to develop many essential life skills. So how can you encourage your kids to swap screen time for play time? Here are our top 10 ideas to make the great outdoors fun!

1. FOLLOW ALONG

When you are in a special outside place with your child, step back. Observe them. Instead of directing their play, say ‘I will follow you’, and see where they take you. What do they see? What interests them? How does the world look from their perspective? What can you learn from this? Allowing your child to be free in the natural world is extremely empowering. Sometimes they may need coaxing to get out there, but once they are, as often as you can allow them to lead the way.

2. LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Consider auditing your own screen use to see how much time you really spend on them. Perhaps you could try going on a screen-detox for a while. Role modelling is incredibly powerful for kids, so show them that you value and enjoy time outside with them without being glued to your phone.

3. HUNT FOR TREASURE

You don’t have to go bush to experience nature. Even if you live in the suburbs, foraging adventures can be had! See what treasures you can find in your local neighbourhood: mulberries, lilly pillies, pine cones (where pine-nuts live), acorns, blackberries, autumn leaves, edible weeds and wildflowers are all bounties that are easy enough to glean. Make sure to take care with proper plant identification, and beware of potential soil contamination in your local area or weed spraying— check with your council if unsure. This element of the adventure could form part of a fun research project too!

4. GET CRAFTY

There are so many beautiful craft projects that involve celebrating the natural world (and scouring it for materials!). Nature looms, leaf garlands and collages are all easy and ephemeral activities that can be made with a few sticks, leaves, flowers and string. Mud painting with paint brushes made from reeds, grass fronds and sticks is another way to let creative imaginations run wild. Naturally dyeing eggs (see the Pip blog) or yarns (Pip issue 7) involves a little more infrastructure, but is great for bigger kids who may need creative activities to inspire them.

5. SWIM IN A RIVER

In Australia we are drawn to the beaches. Our capital cities cling to the coastline and surf lifesaving is a national sport. We love to swim in the ocean…but don’t forget the rivers. If you’ve never swum in a river or dam, now’s the time to dip your toe in, literally. There is something incredibly special about the tranquil stillness of a river, with mysterious snags and reeds tickling your toes.

6. GET TWITCHING

Birds can tell us so much about what is happening in our environment. Their calls and what they mean can unlock a hidden narrative that is especially enchanting to children. Learn about birds local to your area, and observe the patterns in calls that they make and what they mean: danger, food, mating and more.

7. BACKYARD BONFIRE

Simple pleasures are the best kind, and what is lovelier than cooking your dinner on some smouldering coals in your own backyard? Sometimes it can be hard to get away for a holiday, so we love to take a mini-break in our very own backyard. Tents are optional, marshmallows are not.

8. GROW WITH THEM IN THE GARDEN

Children who grow up gardening have a unique opportunity to have gardening knowledge ingrained as second nature. Integrating children in your gardening can be as easy as growing their favourite things (strawberries, watermelon and blueberries are all very easy to grow at home) and spending time as a family in the garden. Raising seedlings from your very own potting mix (see the Pip blog) is also magical, as is making mini-wicking beds (Pip issue 8).

9. CARE FOR ANIMALS

Is there any better way to a child’s heart than a fluffy Silkie chook? Caring for animals as a child forms a part of many people’s lifelong attachment to the natural world. If the pets are productive, so much the better! Quails are very easy to care for, chooks have hilarious personalities and goats can be very loving. Consider productive pets over conventional ones if you need to choose one over the other.

10. NAME YOUR SPECIAL PLACES

Naming special places in nature that you frequent creates the fabric of a beautiful story for your child. Creating a map of special places helps to centre their world around these spots. In our neighbourhood we have ‘Big Log’, ‘Magic Circle’ and ‘Bunyip Hollow’.

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