During lockdown so, many of us gained a newfound appreciation for nature and time spent in the natural world.
We became aware of how the natural world soothes and calms us, of how it provides space for us to breathe, both literally and metaphorically.
Spending time in nature allowed us to gain some perspective on the great crisis we were facing and to understand better how we humans, with our disputes and self-made struggles, are simply a tiny part of a vast ecosystem.
Nature also became our family’s playgrounds.
We discovered rope swings, dens and climbing trees on a near-daily basis, and our children became accustomed once more to moving and walking the longer distances our bodies were designed to do.
We discovered new places right on our doorsteps, identified new types of plants and saw wildlife we had never seen in real life.
As life begins to return to some normality and children return to school once more, these forays into the natural world remain just as important.
Spending time in nature
As a forest school leader as well as a teacher, I have seen first hand how much benefit there is to be had from children spending regular time outside in nature.
Time spent outside in a natural environment has been shown to allow people’s attention and focus on resetting.
Playing in green spaces has also been shown to improve working memory, which is vital for learning new information and understanding complex instructions. Increased time outside can, therefore, directly increase concentration and readiness to learn once back in the classroom environment.
When playing outdoors, children learn to cooperate and work with others, learning to trust one another, for instance, when carrying long branches or building dens together, and to maintain each other’s safety.
This encourages friendships and communication, which in turn help develop emotional intelligence allowing children to become more self-aware, resilient and empathetic towards others.
We all know that staying fit and healthy is more important now than ever. With rising childhood obesity level and children spending ever-increasing amounts of time in sedentary online worlds, time spent playing in nature provides a clear antidote.
Physical development and wellbeing are encouraged by the purpose for physical activity, be that walking with friends and family, running around to play games, lifting and carrying heavy objects to build structures, climbing trees or myriad other ways.
Fostering a love of being outdoors can then encourage participation in further physical activities from team sports to conservation volunteering.
Perhaps the most important benefit of time spent playing outside is that it gives children the freedom to explore and be creative. Outdoors you will often find children become engaged in self-directed, purposeful activities.
You may be amazed to see them demonstrate much greater perseverance than they would in a typical classroom task. When children achieve a goal that they have set themselves, they gain a far greater sense of satisfaction and therefore boost to their confidence and self-esteem.
So how can you help your family to keep that connection with nature once you return to school?
Making a conscious choice
At first, deciding to spend significantly more time outside has to be a conscious choice. You may have to overcome some initial resistance from family members (we still occasionally get grumpy teenage meltdowns about family walks!) but I promise it is so worthwhile.
My all-time top tip for spending enjoyable family time in the wild is to bring lots of snacks and drinks and wear sensible clothing. You may feel a bit like a packhorse as you set off, but it is the thing that can make or break a successful day outdoors.
Always check the weather reports before you go and, given the changeable British climate, bring plenty of other options such as hats, raincoats and spare socks.
When trying to increase your time spent in nature, as with any new routine, it has to be sustainable for your family.
When my children were younger, they usually woke very early so we would often take a packed breakfast and go and play in the woods before school, or take the dog for walks where we could see the sun rising from the horizon.
If you find yourself in this stage you could consider something as simple as leaving for school earlier, either walking a longer route or simply taking the time to stop and notice the birds, trees and flowers you encounter on the way.
Now my children are older and sleep later we tend to go out after school or even later in the evening. We all tend to be nicer people once we have full tummies from dinner and you will be amazed at the wildlife you can see at dusk within minutes of the village centre.
Apps in the wild
If like me you have children who are both far more technologically advanced than you and somewhat reluctant to leave their tech, don’t be afraid to bring some of it with you.
There are fantastic nature apps to help identify everything from trees to butterflies to star constellations, as well as apps for downloading ordnance survey maps for a bit of orienteering practice.
We also love geocaching, where you use an app to help locate hidden treasure ad there are lots hidden in and around your local area.
Another tech favourite in our house is digital photography. This no longer has to involve expensive cameras as most phone cameras are excellent quality nowadays.
We have used phone cameras to take landscape pictures, wildlife pictures and even added clip-on macro lenses, which you can buy for around £10, to take amazing close-ups of minibeasts.
Playing outside is a great chance to allow children to lead the way in activities.
You might want to plan an initial game or activity to start the play or keep a good activity up your sleeve for if you need a bit of inspiration.
This doesn’t have to be anything complicated – we love games such as 4040home, ‘3 before me’ where children have to race to find for example 3 bumpy things or 3 green things before coming back to tag you or even just a simple scavenger hunt such as find 5 different coloured leaves or find the longest stick.
Here’s more inspiration
And if you want more activities to inspire you to get outside, you can always sign up to our Flo & Fawn WildSTEM boxes.
WildSTEM boxes will inspire your children to learn about the natural world and experience it in new ways, learning key STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through imaginative and engaging activities.
WildSTEM boxes provide a month of seasonal nature-based challenges from acorn catapults to wildflower cakes, which can be recorded in their handmade Nature Journal. All designed by qualified teachers and tested by real children.
With plenty of independent activities as well as fun for the whole family to enjoy. Full, easy to follow instructions are included for each activity as well as key parts and ingredients, so you’re never left searching the shops for that vital piece.
Monthly competitions against other Flo & Fawn children and access to exclusive online content brings Flo & Fawn Wild Families sessions to your home safely and at a time that works for you.
The flexible subscription service lets you sign up for 1, 3, 6, or 12 months to make sure you’re getting the best value learning. Starting at just £11 you’ll receive eight different activities each month all beautifully packaged in a handy box that fits through the letterbox, so you never miss a delivery.