Monday, March 30, 2009

Nature Activities

I have got to say the beautiful weather of the past few weeks has started to make it harder to sit indoors and work, especially when the days are full of sunshine and warmth.  I can think of a thousand things to do outside on a spring afternoon, even raking pine needles to get some fresh air sounds therapeutic.  For those of us who live in the outdoors it seems natural to step outside, but I know when the city streets seem to fill your backyard instead of the mountain's forests, it can be hard to talk kids into getting out there.

Sanborn staff recently presented a session at the National American Camp Association Conference titled "101 Nature Activities."  Our goal was to help demonstrate how accessible the outdoors can be and that you don't need a lot of "stuff" to have fun outside.  Like Jane mentioned in her post,  April is Children and Nature Month, why not get out there and take advantage of what Mother Nature has to offer?  Here are a couple of quick activities to enjoy that will help to create a sense of wonder no matter how old you are.  They have been written to be used in a camp setting, but part of the beauty is taking them and adapting them to work anywhere: your backyard, a city park, or an open space nearby. 

Special Spots:  When out on a hike look for an area where children can spread out and find a Special Spot.  Explain to them that they will be "a giant" (think Horton Hears a Who) in their Special Spot, so they will need to inspect it closely to discover what is going on there.  When they enter their Special Spot, they will be entering a little community that already existed before they arrived, so it is important not to do anything which would disturb or damage their spot.  Look carefully at rocks and sticks.  What shapes are they?  Where do you think they came from?  what living things do you find? How do they depend on the non-living things in your spot?  What sounds or smells do you experience?  Take time to just be, to sit and take in the view.

FBI Hike: This fun activity can take place anywhere.  The FBI (Forest Bureau of Investigation) can also become the CIA (City Investigation Agency).  Kids are challenged to explore their environment to find evidence of criminal activity within the natural world.  Examples might include trees which are "littering" by carelessly scattering needles or leaves, birds "murdering" insects or worms, or squirrels kidnapping the "children" (seeds) of trees.  The possibilities are endless and can lead to discussions about food chains, interrelationships within the natural world and many other natural principles.  Investigators can use digital cameras to document the crime scene and make notes about the evidence they find.  At the end of the hike, the detectives make "Wanted" posters describing each criminal they uncovered.

Paint Chip Hike: Give each child a paint chip sample from a hardware store.  They can be all colors pinks, reds, greens, blues; they don't even have to seem like natural colors.  As you are hiking have the kids try to match their color with natural things they see like a purple flower or neon yellow lichen.

We would love to learn about any other great activities that help children gain an appreciation of the natural world around them, so let us hear what you have done and ideas you have.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Children and Nature

April is Children and Nature Month, sponsored by the Children and Nature Network and we hope that everyone will join us in celebrating.

At camp, we have long known that magical things happen when children and nature get together. Now there is a growing body of research that supports the importance of a strong connection with the natural world for all of us, and especially for young people. Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, includes research from many sources and this documentation all points in the same direction. "As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature."

What does contact with nature provide? According to Louv and the research he cites, nature calms children, focuses them, and yet excites their senses. It incites peace and curiosity at the same time. It provides physical and emotional exercise that "is more varied and less time-bound than organized sports." It reduces stress and bolsters children's resilience. Louv further points out, "Children are simply happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied opportunities for experiences in the out-of-doors."

While camp is an excellent place for children to experience a personal connection with the natural world, it is certainly not the only place. Children can experience nature in alleys, backyards, and school grounds. They can find adventure and discovery while playing with peers in a vacant lot or park. Or they can gain a lifelong appreciation for the natural world by spending time with an adult who knows how to point out the animal sign and notice the color of a leaf, and then support the child in making his own discoveries. As Rachel Carson said, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

How will you share Children and Nature Month with the young people in your life?