By Larraine Roulston:
Children are our greatest resource and whenever possible we need to allow them the opportunity to enjoy and learn from nature. Remembering that kids love to get dirty, allow them freedom to go outside and just play.
Although my childhood didn’t include camping, it did consist of a sand box and fun making mud pies under an old dead tree stump. I was also fortunate that my elementary school route included three vacant fields, one of which had a creek where tadpoles flourished. In other words, my play took place outside in nature. The following ideas will help youngsters appreciate nature in all its seasons.
CAMPING: Sleeping in a camper or tent is a wonderful experience, whether it be in the backyard or at a holiday campsite. Canoeing and campfires add to the excitement.
GARDENING: Nothing tastes better than homegrown vegetables or fruits from the garden. When children grow them, they are more apt to eat heathy foods. When the growing season has ended, children can pluck any remaining parsley and oregano, etc., then chop and make them into ice cubes. During the winter, these fresh herbs can be added to soups.
NATURE GARDEN: Plant a nature garden. Include milkweed, which is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat. You may even be fortunate enough to spot a chrysalis on a nearby branch or window ledge where the family can watch its development and witness the birth of a monarch butterfly. Read stories under a tree. Take art supplies outdoors.
FRUIT TREES: School field trips often include traveling to an apple orchard. Look for places where you pick your own fruit. If you have sufficient yard space, consider planting one or more fruit trees. Here, children not only can watch the tree blossom, but also gather the fruit to bake muffins. At times when the fruit is bountiful, applesauce or other preserves can be made.
SCENIC LOCATIONS: Find interesting spots to have picnics, and use hiking trails or bicycle paths. A trip to the beach to swim and make sandcastles or a walk to local parks are adventures all children enjoy. Allow them to climb rocks and trees. On any one of these outings, pack some gloves and a bag or two to gather litter.
During the upcoming winter season, building snowmen, skiing, skating and playing outdoor hockey will invigorate children.
EXPERIENCES: Geocaching has become a popular activity that augurs well for outdoor fun. This treasure hunt experience can be engaging, as the caches usually are cleverly hidden to encourage seekers to be really observant.
COLLECT: As most children love to gather colored stones, acorns, pine cones, flowers or moss, take along a container for their treasures.
BE INFORMATIVE: Get excited about the things you see as well. Take along a book that identifies birds, insects, wildlife or plants. Children are naturally curious; therefore, it’s best to become knowledgeable about exploring animal droppings. Raccoon scat, for example, contains diseases and parasites that, if disrupted, can cause eye damage. Remain calm if you are fearful of having your family encounter bees, wasps, spiders or worms. Allow your children to take their own photos.
By encouraging the enjoyment of nature, we will help swing the pendulum closer to conservation.
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure stories on composting and pollinating. To order, visit www.castlecompost.com