After weeks of not being allowed to go out of our houses/gardens, followed by weeks of only being allowed out for 3 set hours each morning we are really craving nature and the outdoors. As a family we love to be outdoors as much as possible. The children (usually) spend quite a lot of their school day playing outside and over the weekend we, as a family, are outdoors most of the day. So in this –our new normal- we have really struggled to be in the house and the same environment week after week.
The level of stimulation, for the girls, when we are at home, is really not the same as when they are at school/crèche (it’s just not possible with my very divided attention, no peers and no change of scenery). I have, therefore, made a huge effort lately to get the girls into different spaces. Time is limited with being the only adult at home, having to do a lot of the cleaning etc as well as working full time so I have made nature walks a sacred time of our day. I make every effort not to neglect our walks. I find that when we walk, Ella’s mood is much better and Mila doesn’t fight her naps (which is enough motivation for me).
Usually I put Mila in the baby carrier and Ella puts her baby doll in her baby carrier (it’s pretty cute I have to admit) and off we go. Our complex isn’t huge but we try to take a slightly different route each day to keep things interesting. We take our time to wander slowly, crisscrossing the road to look at the tiniest details.
I walk up really close to each bush and tree, ensuring that Mila can reach and feel the leaves and flowers, while I give her descriptions of their textures.
The benefits of walking and being out in nature are obvious… relaxation, fresh air, exercise, enhanced mental health etc but if you really engage with the environment there are so many linguistic, mathematical, sensory and general knowledge benefits too.
- Learning new vocabulary (try and use big, interesting words that can be explained and demonstrated and then ask your child to try the new word out in context or a sentence for you… for the babies it just helps for them to hear new words and vocabulary).
- Ask for descriptions from your child of what they are seeing and feeling. Example, how does that leaf feel? (rough/smooth/waxy etc)
- Narrate your actions and what you are hearing and seeing and how it makes you feel (this is especially enriching for babies).
- Names of colours and their shades/tints.
- Comparison vocabulary (big, bigger, biggest; small, smaller, smallest; medium; close, closer, closest; far, farther, farthest; tall, taller, tallest, short, shorter, shortest etc)
- Ordering (behind, in front of, next, last, first –as in, “the purple tree is next to the last house in the street”) –you have no idea how difficult these concepts are for young children, often when I used to teach first grade this was a massive stumbling block for children.
- Looking at house numbers helps with number recognition, counting (in even and odd numbers, forwards and backwards etc).
- Feeling the elements and weather on the skin (wind, sun, rain, cold or compare how it feels when standing in the sun compared with standing in the shade).
- Touching leaves and flowers – how do they feel? Compare how they feel.
- Stimulating the senses (touch, sight, hearing, smelling –even tasting if you have those sorts of plants in the neighbourhood)
- Discussing names of plants and insects.
- Discussing what the role of various insects are.
- Discussing why we need certain plants (the same plants or different plants and flowers)
- There is also a huge lesson here about adults not always knowing the answer, it is extremely valuable to tell your child that you don’t know the answer. “I am not sure, why don’t we look that up together when we get home” – that phrase has helped me out of a few tight spots and allows for us to learn something new together.
There is really an endless list of benefits to being outside (and changing the environment for you and your little ones).
I hope that I have motivated you to go and enjoy a nature walk this week. Have a super happy week everyone.