You want to keep your children close to nature, even during the cold winter months.
BUT going outside is much more challenging. You need to bundle everyone up, find matching mittens and figure out how to get them to stay on your little one’s hands. And sometimes, it’s just too wet and cold to be out.
AND, you also don’t want them spending more time in front of screens.
How can you achieve both?
Finding nature in every day activities
“Nature movement” organizations and blogs encourage you to take your child outside every day. They tell you to bundle up and enjoy the crisp air and find pleasure in the discomfort.
I’m all in favor of going outside as much as possible during the winter. But when it’s cold and rainy, it’s simply not fun. No matter how you spin it. On those days, I am staying in and enjoying Mother Nature from the comfort of our home with a fire crackling in the living room.
But that doesn’t mean, you have to turn your back on nature.
In fact, fostering a closeness to nature through a wide range of activities is what truly makes a difference. The idea is to create a lifestyle that nurtures that bond throughout the year and naturally weaves itself into our every day routines.
Let’s get specific.
I decided to sit down and make a list of all the things we do during the winter that relate to nature. In the end, I surprised myself a bit by how many different activities there were. 18 total! And many of them didn’t take place outdoors.
I selected 4 of our favorite ideas to share with you that you can easily incorporate into your child’s life this winter.
1. Feed the birds
This can be as easy or as sophisticated as you like. Start by buying a bag of black sunflower seeds. Don’t bother with the mixes that contain millet. Most birds in the northern latitude stay away from it.
Super Easy: Broadcast the seeds on your deck or lawn.
Easy: Place the seeds in a saucer, tray or simple bird feeder. We have both because birds like juncos, cardinals and bluejays are ground feeders can’t get seeds from a hanging bird feeder. You may also attract squirrels but the kids love watching them just as much.
Advanced: Buy a squirrel proof bird feeder. They are more expensive and worth the investment if your children really get into watching birds and the squirrels become too much of a nuisance.
Here is our setup.
Yes, that tree on the left is our Christmas tree. We keep it out on the deck all winter.
It’s a wonderful place for the birds to hang out. Sometimes, we make pine cone bird feeders and hang them on the tree, or old slices of bread.
The birds do a great job of reminding us to fill the feeders every morning as they often wait for us when we come down for breakfast.
When you are just starting out, it may take a day or two for the birds to discover your seeds. Be patient. They will come.
2. Set Up a Winter Scene
Get out your blocks, train tracks, animals and whatever else your child might have that can be used to create a winter scene. The only other item you will need is some white felt or fabric for snow. Cut out a large piece or several small ones.
Now your child is set to create a winter wonderland. Sometimes, they just need a little spark and off their imagination will go.
Here is one of our recent winter wonderlands:
It includes wooden snowflakes that we painted white, wooden trees and peg people, simple wooden houses cut from 2×4’s, a collection of walnuts, acorns, pebbles and small sticks, a blue play silk, cut up branches from our yard, simple and very versatile blocks from Ikea (the road), castle blocks and Schleich animals.
Our 2-year old enjoys the simple act of building and makes sure that tractors and construction vehicles are part of the scene. Our 5-year old loves to create elaborate stories about what happens in the villages and winter woods. It is by far their favorite activity during the winter.
3. Cooking and Baking
We don’t always think of cooking and baking as activities that foster a connection with nature in children. They are routine tasks that just need to get done.
When you search online for ‘nature activities’, food doesn’t show up. Strange, isn’t it?
I’m sure by now you are thinking “Yes, of course, food is part of nature and my kids can learn from it.”
Sometimes, it only takes a bit of mindfulness to unlock the wealth of learning opportunities that are at our fingertips every single day.
- Talk about where the food you are preparing or eating comes from. Did you grow them in your garden? Buy them at the store? Where do carrots grow? Where does flour come from?
- Why does it have a particular color or texture?
- What does it taste like?
- Share facts with your child that will spark their natural sense of curiosity. Do you know that cinnamon is the bark of a tree?
It’s okay if you don’t know the answer. Look it up and learn with your child.
Do you know how yeast eats sugar when it doesn’t have a mouth? That was a question from our 2-year old a few weeks ago. (The answer is: The yeast has enzymes that break down the sugar, which can then be absorbed like lotion is absorbed into our skin.) Yes, I had to look that one up.
Cooking, baking and eating are also perfect opportunities for engaging all of your child’s senses.
Taste it. Feel it. Smell it.
Slow down and savor your food.
4. Indoor Snow Day
This is clearly not an everyday activity…unless you live in northern Canada. But when you do have snow and can’t go out because the baby is sleeping or a blizzard is raging outside, bring the snow inside.
Grab a big bowl and load it up with snow. Lay out a big towel on your kitchen table or the floor and put the bowl on it.
Add small cups, bowls, and spoons. All set! Depending on your child’s curiosity level, you might want to add the rule of “No snowballs inside.”
And on days with no snow, make paper snowflakes and tape them to the windows. It’s not quite as much fun as the real stuff but it definitely looks pretty.
Connecting children with nature is not a stand-alone activity. And it doesn’t necessarily have to take place outdoors.
In fact, it is the combination of experiences that allow children to connect the dots and make sense of the world around them. Our brain gets bored with single streams of information. It craves an intertwined flow of data, which it then puts together like a puzzle.
All you need to do is expose your child to a rich variety of experiences and environments, both indoors and outside.
Talk about nature.
Interact with nature.
Make it part of your everyday life and your children will thrive.