We know time outdoors is good for kids’ wellbeing. It increases physical activity, reduces kids’ anxiety and improves sleep. Outdoor settings are also both stimulating and calming at the same time – perfect for learning.
At times like these, we want our kids to reap the physical, mental, emotional and educational benefits of time outside more than ever. But now that one in three Americans (and counting) are living under stay-at-home orders, we need to stick indoors.
How can we redefine outdoors in a stay-home moment?
None of us needs to give up on the dream of our kids running free, exploring open green spaces and learning in a classroom “with no walls.” But, for now, let’s figure out how to work as much nature into this temporary “new normal” as we can. Let’s start by thinking creatively about how to enjoy the outdoors at home.
Homebound and need to be indoors?
Even though we can’t recreate the magic mix of the great outdoors inside, we can weave in the sensory elements and get some real benefit. Research even tells us that simply seeing photographs of nature can have restorative effects. There are some easy ways to bring a little outdoors inside.
Add nature elements to your home environment:
- Bring in natural light and fresh air. Put a table or some chairs right next to a window, open it up and let fresh air flow through your home.
- Import nature objects. If you can’t play in the park, bring a few nature objects indoors. Just a few sticks, rocks and leaves can offer kids the chance to feel, smell, see, hear and interact with nature.
- Play nature sounds. Research shows nature sounds are highly relaxing for all of us. So, go ahead and play them in the background all day long to help bring nature indoors. Check out nature sounds apps on Google Play, Apple App Store or search in Spotify.
- Borrow from the kitchen. Many of the items in our kitchens originate from nature. Allocate a little rice or beans for scooping play or spices for potion making. So great for the senses!
- Give extra time to house plants. Involve the kids in caring for the plants. If you have a large plant, build a tiny fairy house in the pot.
Act like you are in nature:
- Do Tinkergarten At Home with kids. Give kids hours of outdoor/indoor play time with weekly sets of activities that require just what you’ve already got. Join a live Tinkergarten DIY session with your kids each Tuesday morning, too.
- Sensory freedom. One of the best things about being outside is freedom. It’s hard to recreate that within four walls, but we can designate a messy play zone in the bathtub, sink or shower stall.
- Build a Fort or “Animal hideout”. Make nature the focus of play as you drape a sheet or two just so to make a fort or hideout for your favorite creature. Then, enjoy hours of pretend play.
- Turn screen time into green time. There are a wealth of wonderful nature films for kids, and who wouldn’t love to use screens to help our kids fall even harder for other animals and our planet? Remember, just seeing natural beauty will give kids benefits, too! Here are some helpful sources:
Homebound, with a yard?
No matter how big or small, the patch of green attached to home can become a nature wonderland. Here are some ways to make the most of it:
- Look closely and marvel. Slow down and behold all of the nature you’ve got right there. It’s easy to overlook the wonderland that is a flower bed or the world there is to discover in the small area surrounding the shrubs right next to your front door.
- Move indoor activities outdoors. As long as it’s not too wet out there, move the indoor fun outside. Move your craft table out to the yard or put your supplies in a laundry basket or box, take them outside, then flip the basket or box to make a table.
- But I have to work! Yep, we hear you. So, if you can’t transport all of your kids’ activities outside, follow some of the tips below. And, make pre- and post-work outdoor time for the whole family. It’ll help you to get out and play, too!
Be kind to you.
Whether you sit in a backyard or stand on the sidewalk a few times a day, take breaks to go stand in the sunshine and feel the fresh air. Make these moments special. Remember that life just dumped a truckload of lemons on each of our doorsteps. The sweeter the lemonade we make, the better we do at teaching our kids to adapt to whatever life hands them. Out of all the things we’re struggling to teach them now, this might be the one home-school lesson they’ll benefit from most.
Cheers to each of us for making the most of whatever outdoor space is available. This, too, shall pass. When we look back, our families will remember the little, sweet moments we managed to create in the midst of so much challenge.
Meghan Fitzgerald is co-founder and chief learning officer of Tinkergarten.