Just because the calendar says September, and most kids are back to school, doesn’t mean you have to put away the sunblock and hiking shoes. Consider this: studies repeatedly show that time spent outside in nature leads to better results in the classroom, including increased focus.
Here are five tips from Nature Rocks – a program managed by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with ecoAmerica and the Children and Nature Network, and supported by a grant from The Walt Disney Company – to get kids and families engaged in the natural world.
1. Only have half an hour of free time? Head out to the back yard and collect a variety of leaves, grass, twigs and foliage that will fit in a sack. Ask kids to reach their hands inside (without looking!), and hold onto something (without looking!). Younger kids will have fun guessing what they’re touching. You can ask older ones to describe the differences in the leaves, and why they might be shaped that way.
2. Surveys show parents are as concerned about the time their kids spent in nature as they are about the economy. And some research has shown that making time for nature may actually provide a boost in creativity and problem solving that likely contributes to productivity as well. (In one recent study, backpackers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature disconnected from electronic devices.)
3. Be sure to be safe out there! With heat waves and warm temperatures stretching into the fall sports season in recent years, you’ll want to keep kids hydrated, slathered in sun screen and armed with bug spray against biting mosquitos. And of course, avoid being out in extreme weather such as thunderstorms.
4. Headed on a fall weekend out of town? Check out the mobile-friendly Nature Finder tool to locate nearby zoos, parks and other natural areas, where you can find new places outside to explore.
5. What if it’s raining – or snowing? No worries – there are activities for these days, too. Puddle-jumping works for all ages, and setting up a rain gauge to measure how much rain has fallen is a great way to try some citizen science. On colder, snowy days, you can build a snow fort with your kids. Or an old-fashioned, good-natured snowball fight always gets the blood moving!
You can read more ideas in a weekly blog and round up of news relevant to kids in nature at www.naturerocks.org, sign up for a free e-newsletter and follow Nature Rocks on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo © Shirley Fredrick (A child trapping an insect at Orchard Pond in Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Arizona.)