When we think back to happy times in our own childhoods, most of those scenes happened outdoors in a seemingly never-ending summertime of sunshine and freedom. Pelting round playing a complicated game of tag, gasping at the first feel of the cold waves hitting you, lazy picnics and the smell of freshly mown grass, these are the memories we treasure. Yet, just 21% of today’s kids regularly play outside, compared to 71% of their parents.
Being surrounded by nature in all its glory beats being cooped up indoors, glued to yet another video, social media update or screen game. Spending time outdoors activates and feeds all your children’s senses, gives them a sense of wonder and improves their health and happiness. So get up, get out - and make this a nature summer your kids will remember.
1. Go rockpooling...
Poking around in tide pools on the beach is one of the best parent-child shared experiences. Coaxing your little one to press a finger into ruby anemones and feel the corresponding suction, discovering skittering crabs hiding in seaweed, making a fabulous collection of strange-shaped, sea-smoothed stones, pretty shells and, if you’re lucky, fossils, these are just some of the fabulous finds awaiting you. And then of course there’s the pure physical joy of running in and out of surf and leaping down sand dunes.
2. ...Or pond-dipping
Streams, rivers and ponds hold an endless fascination for children. (Make sure you give little ones your full attention.) You can spend hours making a dam together, playing Poohsticks, chasing darting minnow and pond-dipping. All you need is a net and a bucket to examine underwater creatures scooped up, including pond snails, frogs, toads, water beetles and perhaps even a newt.
3. Visit a farm
Shockingly, one in three children have never heard a real cow go “moo” or a sheep go “baa”. That’s according to a poll of 1,000 children by farming group LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), which organises open farm days throughout the UK every year. The annual Open Farm Sunday is on 11 June 2017 this year. Each Open Farm event is unique with activities ranging from machinery displays, tractor and trailer rides, through to demonstrations and opportunities to collect eggs, see cows being milked and feed animals.
You don’t need to be near countryside to get a taste of life on the farm, with city farms making a great family summer trip. Many have a variety of tame animals to pet such as chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, ponies, rabbits, guinea pigs and donkeys and children can help at feeding times too.
4. Build a den in the woods
Den-building came out as parents’ favourite childhood memory in a recent survey, which makes perfect sense. There is something magical about creating a special hideaway, and even better if it’s in the woods. You could make a den from branches and logs laid against a bigger tree, with bracken on top, or find a perfect climbing tree to claim.
5. Simple pleasures
Simple really can be best with kids, especially if they’re basking in your total attention with all the time in the world, no school runs or homework. Here are some suggestions: teaching them to skim stones or blow a grass whistle, making daisy chains while you loll in the sun chatting, lying back and cloud-watching with big debates about what the different shapes are, catching grasshoppers or watching ants feverishly shoring up their nests.
6. Under and over
If you want your children to have a curiosity and sense of wonder in the natural world, encourage them to look under and above. Turning over stones and logs or peering into hollow tree trunks will uncover a crowded mini-world of milipedes, centipedes, slugs, snails and, if you’re lucky, a frog or toad looking for cool shelter. Help your children learn to climb trees to enjoy the challenge and thrill of being King of the Castle with a whole new viewpoint of the world below.