Five ways to enjoy nature when you can’t get outdoors
Exploring nature has great benefits for us all. For children in particular, it can provide countless learning opportunities including creative problem solving, perseverance, and communication. Engaging with nature is also one of the best ways to foster positive mental wellbeing and develop important emotional skills, such as regulation and resilience.
It can be difficult to get outdoors, now that it’s getting dark much earlier and the temperature is dropping! We are big believers that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing – so we encourage you to get outdoors even if it’s dark and chilly. You could wrap up warm, take along some glow sticks and torches, and have fun exploring nature after dark.
But we also realise that you or your children may not want to spend quite as long outdoors as you would in summer. So how can you enjoy the benefits of nature without having to venture too far out?
How to bring nature indoors:
The good news is that there are simple activities that can bring the outdoors closer. You don’t have to go sledding in the snow or freeze your feet off in a pitch-black playground; it can be as easy as appreciating the wildlife on your doorstep. Here are six play ideas that are ideal for bringing nature into your home:
- Appreciate the nature on your doorstep
You can start by noticing the nature around you and talking with your children about it. Take time to look for the cobwebs in hidden corners, the individual designs of the snowflakes that have fallen, and the holly wreaths hanging on your front door. You can use the internet to help identify anything that isn’t familiar so you can learn about it together.
You can also encourage your children to do some drawings or art inspired by the wildlife and natural features they can see. This encourages them to think about and be inspired by the shapes and features of different things in nature.
2. Create a nature box
When you do go outside, have your children collect natural items such as conkers, sticks, and leaves to bring the outdoors in. Once you have a small collection, you can put a box or a shelf aside to display these natural ‘treasures’.
Next time you can’t make it outside, encourage your children to look at and play with their collection, so they can enjoy the sensory experience of nature from home. Discussing the items collected on different walks or trips together is a fun way to encourage them to engage with the outdoors too, developing their vocabulary while also reminiscing on memories together.
3. Observe your surroundings and play ‘Nature Bingo’
Often, we take for granted the things we can see everyday, but there are lots that can be seen from our windows. You could make a fun ‘nature bingo’, with your own grid made up of features based on the immediate surroundings of your home.
For example, you might challenge your children to spot a tree, an insect, a bird, or even stars in the night sky. This helps them to learn the power of observation and attention, as well as patience!
4. Create an indoor window sill garden
There are lots of different herbs, plants, and vegetables that can be grown on a window sill, shelf, or balcony. You could try mint, chives, cress, tomatoes or even chilli peppers. Children can get a great sense of achievement from growing something of their own, plus smelling and tasting the fruits of their labour means that their engagement with nature becomes a multi-sensory experience, and helps them figure out their likes and dislikes.
You can also regrow vegetable scraps you may have, such as spring onions and celery, by placing their root bases in water and then planting them in soil. This also helps teach children about sustainability.
5. Make your own indoor living fairy village
The Fairy Enchanted Village is a creative play set that combines the power of storytelling and make-believe with an understanding of planting and growing seeds.
The set includes three pots which, when filled with soil and planted with the seeds provided, grow into ‘fairy gardens’. Two of the plants are edible and can be used further for culinary delights once grown. The set also features tiny little glow-in-the-dark acorn lamp posts, animal figures, magical lights, and musical sounds to bring the village to life. This is a great way to nurture your child’s language skills, as they narrate what is happening and discover what kind of magic the fairies have sprinkled on their new living village!
It is also a fun experience to check in on the seeds every day to see how they have grown. The discovery when changes have occurred is magical and teaches children the importance of observation, cause and effect and steps in a logical process.
Dr. Amanda Gummer says:
“It’s lovely to see how children’s imagination can be paired with learning about nature. In Fairy Enchanted Village, children develop an understanding of nature as they grow plants from seed and play make-believe in the world that they create. Children will need to care for the plants and water them to watch them grow so it helps children develop responsibility and nurturing skills. In the calm, multi-sensory garden – children can see, smell, and feel the plants – children who need help managing feelings can engage their imaginations to create a fantastical fairy adventure and develop emotional regulation alongside story-telling and all the other benefits that imaginative play brings.”
6. Narrate an imaginary nature scene
With the addition of some music and the power of make believe, you can set up an imaginary indoor nature scene. You can find calming and inspiring nature-based sounds such as woodland noises, birdsong or rivers on YouTube or Spotify.
Encouraging children to visualise what they can see to go along with the sounds is a great way to stimulate their imagination. By using different types of vocabulary to verbalise and describe a scene, they are also developing important storytelling skills.
Enjoying nature doesn’t have to be complicated or ambitious, sometimes it is as easy as looking around us and appreciating our surroundings.
Setting an example for your child by connecting with all different kinds of natural features, such as wildlife in the trees and flowers on the doorstep, can be one of the most powerful ways to encourage their own engagement in nature.