By Tilda Moore
All kids should spend more time outside to get away from their screens and burn off some energy. Some parents also want their kids to be comfortable outdoors to prepare them for summer camp. No matter the reason that you send your kids outside, you need to ensure they can engage in safe exploration around potential hazards like fire from a fire pit (which is a great addition to the backyard to have family fun time once the sun goes down). The following tips from Red Shoes Rock will help you get your kids actively exploring the outdoors. Nature and neurodiversity often offer our children and adults the best enrichment and long-lasting learning opportunities.
1. Provide Just Enough Structure with Organized Activities
Kids who feel the most comfortable exploring the outdoors do so with some guidance from their parents. Metro Parent notes that structure makes kids feel safe and secure, so don’t plan to throw open your back door and order them to have fun and explore. Rather, invite them to discover, create, and explore with messy play ideas. Show them that they can have fun outside, expand their imagination and creativity, and learn more about themselves and the world around them in the process.
One way to acclimate your kids to the outdoors successfully is to create a scavenger hunt. At Tinkergarten, we often “Go on a Bear Hunt” looking for a baby bear to reunite with mommy bear or vis versa. You can do this in your backyard, a public park, or a campground. The kids will focus on the hunt itself and less on the fact that they may be a little uncomfortable outside. They’ll also be excited about competing against one another.
To get your kids actively exploring the outdoors, create a list of natural items for them to find, such as a certain color leaf or a specific size rock. Have a copy of the list for each child and adjust for your kids’ ages and abilities. You can have the kids compete individually or in teams, and it may be helpful to team a younger child with an older child. Be sure to explain the rules before you give the kids their lists. And have small prizes on hand to reward their hard work.
2. Create Opportunities to Learn about Nature Together
You also can provide structure to your kids’ outside time by organizing a family bird watching day. Childhood by Nature says there are all kinds of advantages to becoming a birder, both for your child and the pair of you.
To start, it’s an opportunity to learn about your immediate environment: exactly what kinds of birds (and other animals, such as squirrels) live there, the kinds of habitats they live in, why your area’s climate is ideal for them, and how different animals have adapted to human presence. Your kids will enjoy learning about the wildlife that lives in their own yard, and they’ll take pride in being able to identify various species that share their outdoor space.
One way to be able to study nature just outside the home is to attract birds and butterflies to your property with an intentional design in your backyard landscaping. Bring on the help of professional landscapers, who will know what native plants and flowers to include.
3. Teach Your Kids Outdoor Safety
To put your kids’ minds at ease—and your own—Scholastic points out that it’s important to teach them outdoor safety tips. Kids are curious, and once they feel more comfortable outside, they will take more risks. Equipping them with general knowledge about the outdoors will help them stay safe, no matter the situation.
Safety for bikes, skates and scooters—Teach your kids not to do any of these activities without first putting on helmets and pads. Show them where to ride safely, such as in your driveway, and review the rules about riding near or on the road.
Safety with insects and animals—While you don’t want to instill fear in your children about insects and animals they will encounter outside, you do need to prepare them in the event they come across some that can harm them. Instruct your kids to avoid spiders, wasps, bees, and ticks because they bite and sting.
You also need to teach your kids about the various animals they may come across in your backyard. Make sure they know to stay away from snakes and wild animals. Also, ensure they know what to do if they encounter an unfamiliar dog or cat.
Parents know the value of outdoor play for kids. To encourage your kids to participate in safe, active play outside, start by providing some organized outdoor activities. Then, learn about nature as a family and teach your kids outdoor safety tips.
Jodee Kulp , co-founder of Red Shoes Rock FASD aware has been a Tinkergarten Leader since 2019 and encourages parents of children with neurodiversity to join her in-person nature classes for ages 18 months to 8-year-olds in the Minneapolis area. Tinkergarten is available in the USA as an early childhood program – Check out their website it is filled with FREE IDEAS.