Use the countryside as your playground!
Today’s kids spend too much time indoors, and a lot of that time is sedentary, spent watching TV or playing with electronic devices increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes. With more screen time and less physical activity - they’re not learning how to spend quiet, contemplative moments or move enough in natural environments. But this isn't just about kids, we as adults can suffer from a nature deficit too.
Wherever you are, even in large capital cities such as London, which is actually almost 50% green space, there are plenty of opportunities to get outside. So if you’re looking for ways to get your kids out into nature more often, here are seven ways to use the countryside as your playground. There are not only physical health benefits but mental health benefits too.
#1: Try Outdoor Playouts
There’s something magical about moving in nature, especially if the activities are completely unstructured. It’s time to get outside and explore the authentic potential of the great outdoors as a viable outdoor gym – hopping over small river creeks, using fallen trees as an imaginary obstacle course, playing adult variations of childhood games such as Primal Play Tag or piggy-back racing each other from hill to hill can be an exhilarating and exhausting experience.
#2: Go on Micro-Adventures
Part of getting out into nature is tapping into the natural curiosity of children. So engage them on little “micro-adventures” in the countryside – like going on a fishing trip to the local creek or exploring a part of the forest that you’ve never been to before. Invigorate the senses - for example, explore different textures and colours or list how many different natural sounds you encounter. A mindful activity.
They can even dress up like their favourite cartoon characters and become their superhero to make it especially adventurous.
#3: Take Bike Rides in Nature
There’s nothing better than getting out in nature and feeling the warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze. Going for a bicycle ride, especially in an area that’s largely unpopulated and filled with rolling hills, is a fabulous treat for all. There are plenty of resources available for bike routes nationally within the UK, in continental Europe with the European cycling network and the Adventure Cycling Association in the USA.
#4: Go On Scavenger Hunts
A traditional scavenger hunt is a great way to engage the natural curiosity of kids – and also a way to teach them about the remarkable variety of nature. Ask them to pick up new leaves that they see, or to find specific types of rocks. Kids love taking these articles and collecting them. Later, you can use a magnifying glass to see the real “hidden” features of these gems.
#5: Embrace The Seasons
Too many people take time off from nature during the winter – but that’s when the fun is just getting started! Bundle up, put on a scarf, and head out there. Yes, even into the snow. Kids love ice skating on a frozen pond or sledging down hills - there are plenty of pop-up winter sport options in the city too. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon. Have fun, then come back home and have something nice and warm.
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#6: Take a Hike in The Woods
Going for a hike is a great way to reconnect with nature. You’ll have plenty of time to stop and observe things around you or to experiment with new hiking trails that you’ve never used before. It’s also an excellent way to have conversations with your kids, and find out what’s on their minds. In England, the Forestry Commission provides details on woodlands and forests available for hiking.
#7: Enjoy Quiet Moments of Contemplation
Children need to learn how to have moments of quiet contemplation. They need to learn what it feels like to commune with nature. So have your kids just sit and observe a tree, carefully paying attention and watching everyone who passes by. Or make check out a serene pond to see how different types of fish move and dart below the surface. This time in nature does wonders for mental health with recent research commissioned by Natural England and Mind the UK's leading mental health charity entitled "A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care" suggesting that making use of nature reduces anxiety, depression and stress.
By using the countryside as your playground, you’ll get back in touch with nature and help your kids learn to understand the mystery of life all around us. And, best of all, when completely unstructured, letting kids explore the world at their own pace.