All throughout the day, when the weather is nice, you’ll find my two kids in the garden. They collect leaves, grass and flowers and incorporate those in their play. Living in the outskirts of the city, I am glad that my children have some space to play out in the sun everyday. They have the chance to interact with nature, even in a limited way, just by going out the back door.
Children, especially those in metropolitan areas where cramped neighborhoods and high-rises are the norm, can pass their day without any meaningful experience with nature. Really, how many have the chance to feel fresh air on their faces?
Research says that nature play has multiple benefits on children’s development. Though our city might not offer a lot of options, we can still help our children become aware and appreciative of the wonders of nature.
Here are 10 fun and easy nature activities that we can do at home or at a nearby green area.
1. Patiently watch a snail
Snails and other creepy crawlies creep me out big time. And though I would rather ignore these creatures, I know that I have to model curiosity – and not screaming – for my children. Here’s one that we followed one time, through the grass and some garden steps.
Since a snail creeps oh so slowly, it’s perfect for little kids to observe and follow. Research about it so you can talk to your child about it, and make sure to point out its slimy (and icky) trail.
2. Watch a spider at work
Pick up your child and quietly look at a spider’s web together. If you’re lucky to find one with its tenant still there, you can also watch how flies and other insects get trapped and eaten. Not even National Geographic can beat seeing that first-hand!
My kids are fascinated with spider webs and easily lose track of time. So get ready to stay still and watch for quite a long time.
3. Go bird-watching
Have you ever stopped to look at and listen to birds around you? I used to just ignore them, thinking that they were all “just” mayas anyway.
That changed when my kids and I joined a bird-watching session conducted by the Wild Birds Club of the Philippines inside the Ateneo de Manila campus. We were introduced to a variety of birds, including bright turquoise Collared Kingfishers or Kasaysay. We were also amazed to know that there is even an owl in the campus!
That experience made us appreciate the birds flying and hopping about everywhere.
4. Observe a caterpillar turn into a butterfly or moth
How many of us have actually observed the well-known fact that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly or moth? We once found and cared for a caterpillar, but we did not know how to care for it so it met an early demise!
My friend Sanne, however, had more luck and research skills. She and her preschooler put one in a wide-mouthed jar, prepped it with some soil and leaves from the plant where they got it, and watched it turn into a cocoon and then a moth. Here’s an article that might help you in this activity.
5. Plant seeds
The only things that I ever planted when I was young were some monggo seeds for science class. I recorded the plant’s growth, drawing and labeling the parts as they appeared.
Watching a plant grow is magical, and drawing and labeling can make us forget it. So how about just planting a seed just because? We once planted some sunflower seeds bought from the grocery, and were rewarded with a beautiful bloom!
6. Look at leaves closely
Leaves are beautiful… and they come not just in color green! We take out our magnifying glass and take a closer look at the different leaves that we find in the garden.
We’ve also made leaf rubbings by putting a sheet of paper on top of a leaf and rubbing it with crayons. For my then three-year-old, I taped some leaves on a piece of paper and challenged him to look for the exact same leaves around the area. It was a natured-inspired matching game!
7. Go out and gaze at the moon and stars
It’s easy to take the stars and moon for granted because they’re just there, every night! It’s also tempting to just let our kids memorize facts about the heavenly bodies without actually taking the time to marvel at them.
So, go out and look at the night sky. Use a telescope for added fun and to encourage your child’s wonder and imagination.
8. Play in the rain
Do you let your kids play when it’s raining? I do, with raincoats on. As long as it’s just drizzling and there’s no thunder and lightning, I let them happily play in puddles.
9. Count the time between thunder and lightning
Now that we’re in the thick of the rainy season, thunder and lightning are chasing each other again. A storm can be fun, as long as you’re safe and sound, just by counting the time between each. This is an easy way to teach counting and that light travels faster than sound. It helps distract your child too!
10. Go on a nature hunt
A nature hunt is a fun and easy game to play, especially for a big group. When we had my daughter’s birthday party at La Mesa Eco Park recently, I prepared a list of things to look for, such as a yellow leaf, a caterpillar, etc. It was inspired by one of our earlier trips to the park, when we had a Nature Scavenger Hunt.
There are so many things to learn in nature, if we make the effort to give our children different experiences of it. And though we don’t really have good parks here in Manila, we can still make do with what we have, such as the La Mesa Eco Park, Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife, U.P. Diliman, or just about any green space that you can find, no matter how small.