Posts Tagged ‘Kids’

Bugs may be small and easily taken for granted, but they are most children’s first intimate encounter with a wild animal.  How they are taught to deal with these small creatures sets the tone for their relationships with larger ones such as birds and amphibians.

To a two year old, there’s no such thing as an ant, a wasp or a spider.  They’re all bugs and worth a closer look.   Unfortunately, in their zeal to teach children to be wary of dangerous bugs, many adults tend to not discern between those which are poisonous and those which aren’t.

Wounded wolf spider

By showing their disdain for all bugs and killing any that cross their paths, many adults  inadvertently teach children that all are to be feared and destroyed at every opportunity.

If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.
~ American Quaker Saying

If handled carefully, even a stink bug will not release the smelly substance in its glands.  A gentleness and reverence for all creatures should be taught at an early age.  It’s important to remember that, the younger the child, the more she/he learns by modelling rather than by verbal instruction.  Colonies of ants found under stones are fascinating to watch as they go about their business.  A child who’s shown how to put overturned stones back in place to leave insects undisturbed is more likely to take that care than a child who’s simply told to do so.

Now where did that ant go?

Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.
~ Bradley Millar

Butterflies seem to be the least threatening of bugs to adults and children alike.  Colorful and delicate, a child has to learn both patience and quietness in order to approach them successfully.  This isn’t easy but well worth the effort and practice.

Red admiral butterfly on a crabapple blossom

The reward is a lifetime of being able to see nature in an up-close and personal manner that allows awe and wonder to enhance any time spent outdoors.

Mourning cloak butterfly

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

All text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012


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Giving your child immunity against loneliness may be as simple as fostering within them a kinship with the natural world.  A love of nature begun in childhood can last a lifetime. 

It is astonishing how little one feels alone when one loves.
~John Bulwer

Playing with doll furniture and worms on the back steps circa 1961

Some of my earliest memories are of playing with worms and doll furniture in my grandparents’ backyard.  I could never understand why the worms didn’t survive the baths I’d give them.  In the springtime, my younger sibings and I spent hours creating dams and controlled waterways with the water from melting snow that would stream in the lane next to our yard. After a long Canadian winter, seeing the sun sparkling on those streams of water gave me such a wonderful feeling. My mother and grandmother both scolded us for getting wet and muddy but it seemed like such a small price to pay for such happiness.

In the summer and fall, we went for picnics in the woods.  We’d enjoy tomato sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper under a big spruce tree while my mom moulded faces in the spruce gum that ran on the tree trunks.  The ‘devil faces’ would harden and we’d see them again the next time we picnicked there.  So began the magical enchantment that’s always been a part of my love for trees.

So much snow

Eventually my grandparents purchased the land where we picnicked most frequently.  Old firefighting hoses were made into swings that my grandfather suspended from the large branches of white pines.  My younger brothers would climb the trees but I was content to swing for hours, daydreaming and singing to myself. 

Climbing a white pine

In the summer we were out in the fields picking berries and flowers or catching grasshoppers and butterflies.  I learned how to drive a tractor in those fields when I was about ten years old, as did my sisters and brothers.  I also had my own little axe with which I was able to trim dead limbs off trees, an activity I still enjoy doing to this day. 

Growing up outdoors

In the winter we’d play in the snow, go sledding or skating at one of many outdoor rinks.  There was always something to do outdoors, either together or on our own. My siblings and I all brought our love for nature with us into adulthood.  Giving children the opportunity to be outdoors, as did my parents and grandparents, truly is a gift that lasts a lifetime. 

Thanks to Gerry at Torch Lake Views for suggesting a post about memories of growing up outdoors

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kids climbing rocks

Are kids testing the limits of your patience?    Perhaps you’re feeling cooped up with a baby who won’t settle down for a nap, a whining toddler  or older children who are arguing incessantly.  If so, maybe it’s time to take it outside.

scaring away wildlife with a teething baby in florida

Scaring away wildlife with a teething baby in Florida

When I was a young mother, taking a crying baby outdoors in my arms or in the stroller always seemed to take the edge off.  Even if the baby didn’t settle completely, at least I felt better.

When my sons were older, having them run around the house several times was my favorite solution to behavior that was spiralling downwards.  They always came back in refreshed and in a better mood than before they went out.   More often than not, time outside can be more effective than a time out.

we don't want to be outside

But we don't want to be outside!

Of course children don’t always want to go outside.  They might complain that the sun’s too bright or it’s too windy, too wet, too cold, too hot or too early in the morning.  Never mind.  Dress them appropriately and throw them out.  Better yet, go with them.  If they’re climbing the walls, you probably are too.

outdoor kids

You can’t stop kids from horsing around, but you can have them take their loud voices and rough play to a place where noise isn’t an issue and they can inhale fresh air while exercising their large muscles.

Climbing the walls isn’t half as much fun as climbing trees.  Besides, the trees don’t mind.

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Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
~ Dr. Seuss The Lorax

How do you get a child to care about nature?  You’d think it would come naturally to all children, but it doesn’t.  Bright light, rough textures and cold winds can all make it difficult for some children to like being outdoors.  It helps to make it personal.  Just as children learn how to love other humans by first forming an attachment to their primary caregiver, so too do they learn how to love nature by first forming a personal attachment to an individual natural setting.  This setting could be a backyard, a garden, park or a wood. Sometimes, all it takes is an attachment to a solitary tree to begin a lifelong relationship with nature.

Exploring textures

A simple walk around with your child can provide them with the opportunity to get to know every nook and cranny of their outdoor world.  Even in your own yard, you’d be surprised what creatures share your space.  Encourage your child to look under rocks and peek inside bushes.  The more you know about local wildlife, the more you’re going to want to know.  Field guides can be helpful and the Internet can offer a great deal of information, but neither resource is a subsitute for personal observation. 

Just playing a game of hide and seek can help increase a child’s comfort level outdoors.  If you have safety concerns, pair a young child with an older child or adult as they hide or do a search.  The goal is to get them accustomed to outdoor textures such as the prickliness of evergreen needles and the roughness of tree trunks. 

Keep your sense of proportion by regularly, preferably daily, visiting the natural world. 
~ Catlin Matthews

You needn’t stay outdoors for long.  Frequent visits in different seasons and weather will reveal that bright sunshine, precipitation, wind and cold are all part of nature and can even be enjoyed when dressed appropriately.  Once a child gets beyond their initial comfort zone, it becomes easy to take next steps to forming an attachment with the natural world.  Before you know it, they’ll be crying to stay outside.

This post is the third in a series about Getting Children Outdoors

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A sure way to lure a child outdoors is to use a bait that’s been found to be effective on numerous types of wild creatures.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t involve promises of video games, computer time or a trip to the mall.  It simply has to do with providing food that’s tasty to their species in a natural setting, a practice also known as going on a picnic.

A picnic on the snow

You can involve children in planning the food and location of the picnic, but don’t underestimate the power of surprise to delight both young and old.  You needn’t wait for a warm, summer day or the perfectly packed picnic basket to enjoy outdoor eating with a child.   The key here is to pair the already enjoyable activity of eating with natural surroundings.

Eating raisins outdoors

Because sensory perception is heightened outdoors, even the most ordinary fare will taste better than usual.   Boxes of raisins or cut vegetables and fruit with dip all make tasty treats.  Finger food is ideal.  Regular sandwiches will seem more special with the crusts cut off ahead of time and placed in a separate bag for feeding birds. 

Don’t rule out take-out fare.   Hamburgers and fries enjoyed outdoors on a park bench still constitute a picnic.   

Regardless of what food is eaten, afterwards, what children remember most is the act of picnicking.  If the mood is cheerful and upbeat, they will be open to repeating the experience.

Of course once you’re done eating, you might wish to take a little stroll around.  Whether you’re in a city park, a forest or your own backyard,enjoy the sounds of nature and explore its wonders together.

exploring a path in the woods

Exploring a path in the woods

This post is the second in a series about getting children outdoors. Next time I’ll provide some suggestions on familiarizing children with their natural surroundings.

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It’s a sad sign of our times that children are spending less and less time playing outdoors in nature.  The lure of technology, busy lives and a lack of natural spaces are often blamed for this trend, but there’s really no excuse.  All technology has an off switch, lives can be made simpler and, even in the city, there are usually parks or wayside spaces nearby.

It’s easy to get a child to spend a sunny summer day at the beach, but other seasons and outdoor settings seldom have the same pull.  The hassle of getting a child dressed for the winter cold can be discouraging, but the health benefits alone are worth the effort.

Feet dangling over a brook

As a mother of three and grandmother of two, I’ve seen for myself the benefits of getting children one-on-one with nature. Confronted with the majesty of the great outdoors, a child quickly realizes that they’re not the center of the universe. Bad moods are quickly abandoned as the focus shifts to the natural world, whether in the form of a sunset, a forest or a daisy.

Years ago, while homeschooling my sons, I saw how going outdoors allowed them to burn off energy while refreshing their minds from a morning of book work. As a preschool teacher I see how 3 to 5 year olds delight in simply running and jumping outdoors and are thrilled at the discovery of a squirrel or pinecone in their surroundings.

However, over the years, I’ve also seen children too unaccustomed to the outdoors shrink back at the touch of evergreen needles and wince at the sunshine.  It doesn’t have to be this way.   Every child has the potential to be comfortable in nature.  Some may even find their better selves there. 

This post is the first in a series aimed at getting children outdoors.  Next time, I’ll offer an easy way to get a resistant child interested regardless of the season.

Text and photos copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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