Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ways for families to connect with nature...

It has been said that our children are the first generation in America's history to grow up indoors, in most cases due to them not living in areas with ready access to the natural environment. This lack of nature has been dubbed "nature deficit disorder." Whether it's the lack of easy access to nature or our hurried over-booked lifestyles or even all the electronic devices that provoke such interest, children today are lacking the opportunities to explore the outdoor world, observe birds, insects and animals in their natural habitats, or just watch clouds float through the treetops.

With summer almost here and the end of school near, it is the perfect opportunity to unplug from everything scheduled and electronic and plug into nature. Here are some ideas of great things to do!

Fun projects to do with your children:

Create a bird nest helper (found on using scraps of various items which our feathered friends can use to build their nests.

Materials you need:
  • Any combination of the following: scraps of fabric, yarn, string and ribbon cut into short strips (3-4 inches in length should be safe), dried grass, Spanish moss, dog or human hair, pine needles, feathers and thin twigs.
  • A mesh bag from oranges (or something similar).

Cut the bag on the sides to allow easy access for the birds. Stuff whatever materials from the above list into the bag and hang on a tree. Viola - instant nesting materials for local birds!

Make Pine cone Bird Feeder.

Materials you need:

  • Pine cones (big ones work best) - you and your children can go on a fun mission to find pine cones in your backyard or local park (creating a double bonus on connecting with nature).
  • Peanut butter *
  • Birdseed
  • String
  • Optional - High-energy bird foods such as dried fruit (cut in small pieces), chopped nuts, sunflower seeds or millet

Set out parchment paper or a plate to work on - it's a messy fun project. Put birdseed (if you are using any of the optional ingredients, put these in as well) in a large bowl or pie pan. Tie the string onto the the larger end of the pine cone. Spread peanut butter on the pine cone. Roll peanut butter covered pine cone in the birdseed until well covered. Suspend from a tree branch where you can watch the birds.

This would be a perfect project to do outside, since it's so messy, and get some more outdoor time. Also, keep a bird book (like the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds) inside so you and your children can look up the birds you see eating from your feeder.

* During the colder months, you can also use a mixture of vegetable shortening and oatmeal or corn meal

Create a wildlife friendly garden with your children in your backyard. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) tells you how and even has a certified wildlife habitat program allowing you to certify your back yard! Check it out here.

Go on a nature scavenger hunt together. Check out the scavenger hunt list that NWF created here.

20 Ways for Families to Connect with Nature from Family Connections On-line (special thanks to CMOTC MOM Mary Lynn P. for sharing this great reference with us):

  • Go outdoors! Walk, run or hike in Central Ohio's beautiful parks and preserves. Walk together as a family on full moon nights and listen to the sounds of birds, insects and other nighttime sounds.
  • Plant native plants, especially the kind that bees, butterflies and birds like.
  • Build a birdhouse or bat house.
  • Put out a bowl of water for a birdbath, and change the water regularly.
  • Make a leaf collection.
  • Camp in the backyard. Make or buy a tent and leave it up all summer.
  • Become a “cloudspotter.” Learn about all the types of clouds and what they mean for our weather.
  • Get outside every day – rain or shine. Jumping in puddles is important work.
  • Plant a food garden. Don't have space in your yard for a garden? Use big pots to plant tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs, zucinni, pumpkin, squash, etc. - most things can grow just well in a pot.
  • Read books outside. The light is good, and you will breathe fresh air!
  • Collect stones. Young children are eager to find interesting stones and fossils.
  • Start a nature club, and plan outings, campouts and nature walks together.
  • Identify unused areas or lots in your neighborhood that can be used safely as a wilderness area or adventure playground.
  • Use recycled materials – cardboard boxes, tins, buckets or bottles, or blocks, boards, milk crates, lengths of bamboo and logs for outdoor construction play.
  • Grow pumpkins and gourds and plant bulbs near play areas. Children are fascinated by the wonderful and unexpected surprise of blossoms and fruit.
  • Set up obstacle courses to jump over, go around and under. Roll down hills.
  • Learn to identify birds, insects, trees and plants in Central Ohio. Keep a nature journal of all you have spotted.
  • Vacation at State Parks, go tent camping or rent a cabin.
  • Check out natural history guides from the library. They have them for young children, too.
  • Join groups like Campfire USA, Scouts, Sierra Club, Audubon and others that promote caring for the environment and wildlife. Check into making your backyard a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Great book for parents:

Richard Louv's book titled Last Child in the Woods that talks about the now dubbed "nature deficit disorder," how it came about, why it's important and what you can do to reconnect.
On his website, he lists a few of the nature actives for children and families that were in his book. You can look at that list here.

CMOTC MOMs - what's your family's favorite way to connect with nature? Please share!


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