One of my big goals in the New Year is to spend more time outside. I know that our days run much smoother when we are outside as much as possible, but I’ve felt stuck with what to actually do when we are outside. I know that sounds silly, but maybe you can relate? Today I am so excited to introduce you to Sarah, the fabulous mama behind The Silvan Reverie. Sarah is passionate about Jesus, her family and spending time in nature. When I first came across her blog I literally sat down and read and read and read for over an hour. She truly has a gift for writing and sharing practical tips for helping your family create memories together in the great outdoors. Today she is sharing 4 Tips to Cultivate Connection With Your Kids Outside. Sweet friends, meet Sarah!
When I consider all the ways in which I can build connections with my children in the course of the day, playing & exploring outdoors is certainly a major area that stands out for our family. We make it a priority every day. We make space for loose, unstructured and open-ended play outdoors where we can connect with each other and the natural world. The daily rhythm and family culture of outdoor adventuring bonds us in a way that screens or toys or expensive outings cannot, and creates lasting memories.
Grounding ourselves in meaningful and unstructured daily outdoor time is a lasting and essential gift I can give to my children: being in nature brings peace in the midst of a noisy and distracted world, it teaches curiosity and observation, it builds confidence, it enhances imaginative play, it engages all of our senses, and it builds an abiding love and respect for God and His created world.
Below I’ll be sharing a few tips on how to create space and rhythms in your day to connect with your kids outside.
1. Embrace Where You Live
First things first—If your goal is to connect with your kids outside more: focus on the connection part and don’t get too caught up on the “where?” part. Keep it simple. Start small. Stay close to home. What is close by you? What natural area can you explore without getting in your car? Do not put pressure on yourself to have grand Instagram-worthy adventures! My family lives on an idyllic 2,500 acre forested camp property, but most days my kids find the most joy and we are most at ease simply playing with sticks and dirt and leaves in our front yard. We could do that anywhere. You can cultivate a love of nature even living in an urban area. Nature is everywhere — even in the cracks of city sidewalks.
There is also something wonderful about exploring the exact same 1/2 mile neighborhood stroll over and over again, observing the natural changes through the course of the day or across seasons. What may seems a bit boring to you as an adult is probably absurdly wonderful to your kids!
And on that note: embrace the seasonal changes of where you live. I know it’s a lot of work to get outside in the rain or snow, but I personally find it so fun to be outside in a variety of weather conditions! It’s worth the effort, even for only 10 minutes of outdoor fun. The natural world doesn’t exist to suit our comfort. We tend to either idealize or fear the natural world and the best way to overcome that: get outside no matter the weather or temperature (keeping in mind there will indeed be safety issues like frostbite or mosquito swarms or poor air quality to be aware of). Be in nature as it comes to you and don’t wait for a perfect day. Find something positive to enjoy–it’s there, I promise.
2. Playful Parenting
PLAY. One of my favorite things about outdoor play with multiple children: it levels the playing field. Inside my kids may fight over the same train or doll; outside there are a billion sticks and plenty of dirt and rocks to go around! There is an ease and simplicity to outdoor play. And ENDLESS possibility. All you need is a stick and a rock and a fresh imagination.
Make room in your life and in your day for play when you go outdoors with your kids. Sometimes this means you’ll need to literally teach yourself how to play. Adults need help growing our imaginations just as much as kids do! When you go outside, leave aside all your stress, obligations, the need to control, the need to teach, and simply: PLAY. Be present. I know it’s hard. And some days you have zero energy for it. And if there’s a baby in the mix all bets are off. I get it. I say this more as a means of encouragement and not as a means to make you feel guilty.
On the flip side: nature is the best playground for cultivating unscheduled, self-directed play that does not need parental involvement. Often I see myself as a catalyst to get the play going when we are outside. I may take a stick and pretend it’s a snake, playing with my kids for a bit in the dirt, then after we are in a groove I may eventually announce my exit from the play: “I’m going to go sweep the porch out now” — and my son is left to play alone or with his sister. I play with my kids, but I also encourage them to build their own imaginative worlds.
Lastly, one quick note in regards to nature study (learning in nature): don’t make nature learning in to a chore. Prioritize nature study by being immersed in nature, not by learning from a distance through books or screens. Keep it play-based and grounded in wonder. Don’t worry if you don’t already know the name of all the birds and flowers and trees you see. Learn WITH your kids, come alongside them.
3. Engage All The Senses
Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees. (Richard Louv, “Last Child in the Woods”)
Engaging all your senses when you are outdoors with your kids means: put away your phone. Unless you are snapping a photo, stay off it. I turn all notifications off on my phone–I don’t want my phone interrupting me and distracting me from using my senses when we are outside. For just a small chunk of time, while outdoors with your kids, try to make it a goal to leave your phone off or on silent. Moms need the gift of sensorial experiences in nature just as much as our kids do! It’s healing and refreshing.
Touch trees. Turn over rocks. Pick up sticks. Stomp in creeks. Get muddy.
Notice the weather–the sun, clouds, humidity, wind.
Look at bugs up close. Go on a color hunt. Find shapes in the clouds. Play “I Spy”.
Stop and listen. What do you hear? I play “quiet game” with my kids all the time. Perhaps I heard a bird or something I want them to notice, or maybe it’s just totally random. I suddenly say “Shhh! Quite game!” and we all stop, listen, and smile. Then we discuss what we hear.
Build nature treasure collections. We collect rocks and sticks and tree nuts and leaves and shells and anything else we can get our hands on. The kids have their own little treasure box to keep their small favorites; other items like large sticks stay in a bin for outdoor yard play. I also have a longer blog post here on what all we do in terms of indoor play and handcrafts with natural materials that we collect, in case you are interested.
4. Share the Experience
Lastly, tell stories. Journal about it WITH your kids! Retell stories over and over at the dinner table or bedtime about your outdoor adventures. Build a culture of excitement and love by reliving favorite moments and giving space to work through the negative emotions that may have occurred in the rough moments (because OF COURSE there are challenges and rough moments). Storytelling enhances your family bonds.
Find like-minded friends. Again, outdoor play levels the playing field: kids of a wide range of ages can come together on beach or on a woodland trail or in a grassy field of weeds in the middle of the city and everyone can engage. No one is left out. Friendships are formed across ages. And as a mom it’s always nice to have at least one adult friend to chat with as the kids play. More seriously, it can also bring comfort and ease to join forces and not be alone with your kids outside in case of a safety issue or even something simple as managing a diaper change for the little one. You do not have to do it alone.
I hope those few tips can help inspire you to connect with your kids outdoors! Ultimately my hope is that you feel like outdoor play is something easy and fun to do and not a burden.
A Few Resources for Further Inspiration:
My personal blog on Inspiring Kids With A Love of Nature
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
At Home Podcast episode: Hands-On Nature
How To Raise A Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson
I don’t know about you, but I feel so inspired and equipped to get outside and PLAY with my kiddos. I can’t wait to dive deeper and check out the additional resources. Thank you for the inspiration and totally doable ideas, Sarah! If you loved these tips, be sure to go check out her blog. She has so many amazing resources (like an in depth look into her families daily rhythm), ideas for Bible Lessons by letter units, and gorgeous 3 part cards. She also has a shop where she creates the most beautiful hand painted peg dolls. We purchased ones that pair with the Jesus Storybook Bible and absolutely love them. From the moment I came across Sarah’s account on Instagram, I was so inspired to get outside more with my girls. She is so encouraging and has the BEST ideas so please be sure to stop by her site and say hello!
You can follow along with Sarah here:
If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in the other posts in this series:
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