Nature in Springtime provides the perfect interactive playground so I have put together a few simple ideas for keeping children busy during their free time.
I’ve previously written about how kids are become increasingly less active, and less connected with nature, compared to previous generations.
Helping children to learn about, and appreciate nature, has multiple benefits – it inspires their imagination; it encourages what I call invisible learning (it feels like play rather than work so they don’t realise it’s happening), they are physically active, and they are developing an interest in their environment.
And of course, there are plenty of benefits for the grown-ups involved – spending a day outdoors can be just as enjoyable and informative for them.
Tips for children in nature
1. Encourage your children to be creative – buy chalk that’s suitable for outdoors and get them drawing nature pictures on the pathway, driveway (see artwork above) or on a designated wall. This is particularly great for play-dates involving 5-10 year olds!
You can also get them taking photographs of the flowers and creatures they see in the garden or on walks – over time they can create a scrapbook of their work.
Signs of Spring
2. Get children spotting signs of Spring (this works with all the seasons, but I think Spring can be the most fun because things start to come to life!). The Woodland Trust has a fantastic online resource for junior Nature Detectives, allowing you to download activity sheets that encourage children to organise their own Spring Scavenger Hunts, looking for plants, leaves etc, or identifying Spring flowers.
3. As I write, my two junior assistants are in the process of making a bug hotel or mansion, using a wooden box that once held two bottles of wine (a Christmas gift) and any materials they can forage outside, including pine cones, twigs and pieces of bamboo. Larger establishments can be built with wooden pallets, bricks, old plant pots.
Why is a bug hotel a good idea? According to the Wildlife Trusts the average garden may contain “over 2,000 different species of insect”, including some that have seen their numbers in recent years plummet because of pesticides and loss of habitat.
There are 97 wild bee species alone on the island of Ireland, including 20 types of bumblebee – they all play a role in pollinating our plant and flower crops. Worryingly, a third of our bee species are endangered. Bug hotels give bees and other insects a safe haven to over-winter and prepare for the Spring.
Planting for pollinators
4. Another way children can help encourage pollinators into the garden is to visit their local garden centre and invest in some packets of seeds designed to attract bees and hoverflies etc (don’t be afraid to ask for advice). Good plants to begin with include Cosmos, Poached-egg plant (Limnanthes), Wallflowers and most kinds of kitchen herbs. It’s also a good idea, if you have the space, to leave a nettle patch, because they will attract aphids which provide food for ladybirds – and all children love counting ladybirds!
5. Finally, if your children enjoy growing flowers to help the bees and butterflies then encourage them to go to the next level and grow their own food!
GIY Ireland (Grow It Yourself) founder Michael Kelly says that children’s enthusiasm and natural self-belief makes them fantastic GIYers.
Michael’s useful advice includes choosing larger seeds like seeds and beans for kids to sow, or fast-growing vegetables like radishes. Strawberries and carrots also make his list of best choices for young novice gardeners. Now is the perfect time to get sowing, and the excitement of eating their own-grown food will provide children with memories and skills that they will carry through life!
Feel free to forward your owns tips and advice on how to get kids connected with nature!