School is almost out for the year and that means the kids will be home for summer. Although they are outside of a classroom for a couple of months, it does not mean that they are done learning! Some of the best life lessons and learning experiences are taught at home!
In the last few months my coworkers and I have been reminded of the need for children to learn about nature around them. While this is especially true of inner city children, it also applies to our children. There are so many benefits to playing outside: vitamin D, creativity and brain development, better attention spans, and more positive moods are just a few.
Time spent with nature can be both formal and informal. Hike on a trail at a state park such as Indian Caves and let them explore. Teach them to spot poison ivy and distinguish between pine trees and maples and any others you know. It is okay when you don’t know the answer to their questions; just let them know that you are still learning about the life around you as well. For the younger children, teach them about seeds like acorns and how they grow into big oak trees. Let them bring home pieces of nature that they are excited about (except where prohibited). Bring jars for collecting insects and bags for nuts or pinecones.
In your own backyard, encourage your children to help you plant your petunias or to help you harvest your peas. I have fond memories of racing my brother to see who could shell the most peas the fastest. (I’m pretty sure I lost every time but I sure did try!) It is good to make helping enjoyable. Allow your child to pick out his or her own flower or vegetable to care for. (I had a flower bed all my own and my brother had a peach tree that he cared for.) Helping in the garden can also be on a list of chores that teaches responsibility and work ethic. The list goes on.
Overall, consider how important spending time outside is for your children-as well as for yourself. There is not a right way to do it, simply make time for it. Teach your children what you know and allow them to explore and learn in ways that can’t happen in a classroom.