Check out my guest blog post on the Children & Nature Network website!
One of my favorite 8-year-olds and I were recently wandering a winter garden when she picked up a white and grey Mockingbird feather.
In magic wand fashion she waved it back and forth, then used it to feel the wind on her cheek.Her eyelids dipped and a gentle smile brightened her face. As she bent down to place it back on the ground I said: “that would be a good one to bring inside and put on a nature table.” Her eyes fell to the feather, now on the ground and she replied: “Mom doesn’t let me bring dirty things in the house.”
Nature offers our children a plethora of simple but effective ways to grow their neurological synchrony. Something as simple as a feather offers our sensory systems opportunity to engage and develop. Fostering a child’s development by connecting with nature doesn’t have to be a grand gesture like a backpacking trip to the hinterlands!
In fact, a child’s daily connection through tiny but consistent interaction is far more supportive of their development than one grand gesture saved for summer vacation.
So how can you, as an adult, facilitate developmentally connected opportunities on a daily basis and during this holiday season?
Focus on your language
Words have power and when a child hears that something is dirty or gross, it closes the door for that child to further connect. Humans have been living immersed in the “dirtiness” of nature for millions of years. Our biome is made up of this apparent dirtiness! Notice the words you choose to reference nature and see if there is a way you can make even a small shift to highlight the positive aspect of a “dirty” feather or stone. Something like: “let’s see what that feather does when we wash it like the birds in the birdbath!” Then you have a clean feather, and the child has a positive association!
Historically this time of year was one in which people held space for nature to return to their lives. They recognized that (in the Northern Hemisphere) the days were getting shorter, they honored the land for what it offered, they paid attention to the activities of the birds and animals looking for signs of impending weather, and they trusted into the return of the light.
These opportunities to be more connected with those historical activities still exist. But we need to give them even just a little bit of attention.
Create a nature table
Bringing things from nature into the home and creating a special place to put them like a nature table does 3 things:
- It gives children (and others) the message that nature matters.
- It provokes greater curiosity when outside. Children will have a reason to pay attention to what is around them.
- It stimulates conversations about nature.
I’d love to see how you and your child are connecting with nature this holiday season! Send pictures of your nature table to us at [email protected] or tag a picture with the hashtag #rxoutside on Facebook and Instagram!
Yesterday my 17-year-old and I were talking about the upcoming holiday season when she said, “Mom, I’d rather have fewer things and more of you instead.”
It made me wonder, “why do people even give gifts this time of year?”
After mulling over my daughter’s declaration, it occurred to me that gift giving isn’t about the actual stuff. Those who enjoy gift giving during this time of the year, do so because they want a tangible way to say, “I love you”. It is a way for them to show that you, or your child, matter and thus is about an attempt to connect and build relationship. Perhaps in the gift is a little bit of hope that the receiver will think of the giver each time the gift is used or played with. In the end, it is about making a connection with each other.
Okay, so we want to give to each other at special times to send a message of love. That’s fantastic. But what about the rest of those moments when a child or teenager is feeling alone?
Matthew Lieberman, author of the book Social, explains that “whenever it has a free moment, the human brain has an automatic reflex to go social.” But what if there is no-one available to “go social with” and no clear vision of how to make that happen? Because loneliness is a pervasive dilemma of our modern times that hurts – like a headache or like stomach pain – the brain finds whatever means necessary to feel that it is making that social connection: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. The success of all these large platforms are a testament to the intensity of this social need. All these large social media corporations spend millions on researching just how to capture the attention of our young. But guess what?
There is something even more powerful, something with years more practice in gaining their attention and capturing their interest: Nature
The World Health Organization tells us the major contributor to the overall global burden of disease is depression. Depression is mitigated by social connection and contact with nature. Studies of happiness tell us that key factors in someone’s lifetime happiness quotient are their social connections and contact with nature. Research tells us that the success of a child later in life can be predicted by their social abilities and their successful development which for millions of years happened in nature.
Connection and nature. Connection and nature. Connection and nature. Our children are designed for connection, and this wiring happened through interactions in nature.
We can capitalize on what nature has wired into us over millions of years to address some of the current problems. One problem that weighs heavy on most adults is that of too much screen time. Any house with internet access knows how difficult it is to get kids away from the screen. Instead of attempting to override or discard their affinity for the screen, use their desire for connection and commandeer it! Make the problem part of the solution!
Here are 5 ideas on how to use technology to support relationship building, connect with young children and teens, and ultimately get them outside by meeting them where they are: online.
Schedule Regular Time With Them Using Technology
Send a card with a small calendar, marking a set day and time each week, or twice a month. Use this day to have a video chat, via Skype or FaceTime, with your grandchild, niece, nephew, or child. Here are some things you can do on your chat:
- Read a book and show the pictures.Find stories that bring nature to life for them.
- Tell a story from your childhood, remembering to highlight the mysteries, the sensory details of the story, the scary or funny parts. Kids are drawn into stories that feed them emotionally. What are your outside stories of childhood?
- Draw together and show each other pictures. Include nature in your drawings, leaving them with a desire to pay more attention when they walk outside.
- Make maps and mark the spot where you hear/see birds or other wildlife.
Video Chat with Screen Share
- Use a free video chat service like Zoom to have a fun ‘screen share.’Screen share allows two people in different places to see the same screen. Together you can look at sites like “All About Birds.” Kids still surprisingly love to visit this site with me, listening to the sounds, looking at the pictures, facts and maps!
- Take pictures of things you see outside and have the child do the same. Then “show” each other the pictures on the screen share.
Make a Shared Journal
Get any size blank journal and write a story about nature, make it entertaining, draw a picture and then send it to your grandchild. Ask them to write you a story and send it back to you.
Make a 3D Nature Story
Collect things from nature where you live and send the things in a box with a card that says, “Call when you open this and I will tell you the story!” Make up a story to go with the items and after, ask your child to draw you a picture for your refrigerator! Ask them to send you a “nature story.”
For teenagers: Teens love screen time. Don’t be the adult that tells them their interest isn’t important, instead use it a door to open and capitalize on.
Join a Social Media Platform like Snapchat or Instagram
Here is a video of how to “Snap” and here is one of how to “Insta”. Once you are on the “platform”, create a “nature connected” picture story once a week for them to watch. Watch their story. Then when you call, you have a shared experience to talk about. Again, create mysteries, children and teens are curious by nature. Before you end a conversation, ask a question that will get them thinking about something outside their door!
The hope is that these suggestions will help you think about ways to connect with your child this holiday season. Sometimes all they want is more time with us, and less stuff.
What suggestions do you have for connecting with your child, nephew, niece, or grandchild this holiday season?
Sign up for our weekly support letter, the RxOutside Sunday Solutions, and receive updates on more ideas to increase connection and nature time for the kids in your life.