A free gift for you!
Hello Life Guides!
It’s springtime (at least in the Northern hemisphere)! The flowers are blooming, and it’s time to shake off the winter blues and get outside!
It’s so easy to be busy, busy, busy and not find the time to get outside even though we know that would be best – both for ourselves and for our kids. So, I really think we should make it a priority, put it in the schedule and make sure our families spend some quality time outside this year.
Most of us probably spend our days living inside of boxes! We go from one box, to another box, to yet another box – from the house, into the car, and off to an office building or school. Then, while we’re inside of THOSE boxes we go further inside even MORE boxes! The phone, the iPad, the computer, or the TV… And all of this is competing with our time and our kids’ time in our natural environment, our natural habitat.
I know we all have memories of our childhood and the time we used to spend outside. Probably most of us even spent a large part of that outside time unsupervised as well. Richard Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder”, points out that we really have a duty, both to our kids and to mother earth, to consciously try and close the gap our culture is creating between our kids and their natural environment. I totally agree! I believe one of the critical roles we have as Life Guides is to help our children connect with nature and make memories there too!
I was born and raised in Italy at the foothills of the Alps and have so many fond memories of my childhood there. I remember going chestnut hunting and mushroom picking, and bringing our little treasures home to roast over the fire or stir into a homemade risotto! We were also often heading into the mountains to visit Italy’s first, and largest national park, Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso (the Great Paradise National Park) that was only about a 30 minute drive from my home. It’s an unbelievably gorgeous place with fresh air, mountain streams, and all sorts of wildlife and beautiful flowers. So while living there as an adult with my own children, I wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to experience all of those things as well!
So, as you’re thinking about how to take advantage of the springtime weather, I thought I would share the ways in which my family gets out of our boxes and into the world! The first thing I try to do is to pick a place, somewhere nearby and easy to reach, where we can go over and over again. That allows us to build a relationship with that place, and its animals, plants, and even its insects as the seasons change. For example, last year we were so lucky to live near a beautiful botanical garden – the Duke Gardens – in North Carolina. We used to go there quite often and the kids had their special hidden spots where they liked to take friends and family when they visited with us. Now that we live in California, we are really enjoying the coastal area. We’re getting to know the seals and the rest of the marine life which is all quite new for us. To help us get to know nature while we’re exploring our nearby surroundings, I like to carry a field guide with me and also have it as a reference guide at home when we return as well. My favorite is the “Handbook of Nature Study” by Anna Botsford Comstock. This is a pretty serious book and the one I bring with me wherever we go. But I also really like several others, some of which are better suited for younger kids. Check out the list below this post for a few of my favorites!
The second thing I like to do to ensure my kids get connected to nature is to bring it home with us! Whenever we go out, we like to collect rocks, leaves, shells, pine cones, and even sand and bring it home with us to study, appreciate, and enjoy. This drives my husband a bit crazy sometimes, but we all love this running joke inside our family!
There’s a fantastic book by Claire Walker Leslie called “The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms” that presents a ton of easy and fun little projects you can do at home to help kids dig into and get to know nature. So in addition to the field guides, I really recommend you check out this workbook as well!
Another way we bring nature home is by planting a small garden. To do this, you don’t have to do anything really fancy. Ours is just a very small little space in our backyard, but you can also do it with just a few potted plants in the window if you want. I always like to plant some edible plants together with some nice flowers as well. This is also a great way to have your kids enjoy eating their veggies! My kids really love eating what they’ve grown, and it helps to promote the great seed to table movement as well! Our favorite seeds to plant are lettuce, green beans, zucchini squash and cucumbers.
Another great reason to get out in nature this year (at least here in the United States!) is because the National Park Service is celebrating their 100th anniversary. I’m sure you’ll find many centennial activities at your nearby park, and, for all of you with fourth graders, you can get into any park for free this year! So maybe now is a good time to begin planning an adventure or two at a national park near you!
My kids really enjoy going to the national parks and the national monuments with their passports which can be used to document their visits. We were able to see quite a few places on the east coast last year as a part of their American History studies, and they really enjoyed getting their passports stamped every time we went to a new park. These passports are a really great way to help the kids prepare for and enjoy the parks, the rangers and the entire experience while they are there.
So let’s go outside this spring time and enjoy what the Japanese call “Shinrin-Yoku”, forest bathing! That’s exactly what I plan to do with my kids this spring. It’s time to get out into nature to relax, learn, play, and just be…
Let me know how you guys plan to enjoy nature this spring in the comments below!
Have a great day outdoors!
My Favorite Field Guides and Workbooks!
“Handbook of Nature Study” by Anna Botsford Comstock
“The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms” by Clare Walker Leslie
“Backyard Birds” a series of field books by Karen Stray Nolting and Jonathan Latimer
“The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-Ups” by Gina Ingoglia
“Caterpillars, Bugs and Butterflies: Take-Along Guide” a series of field books by Mel Boring