Ahhh it’s FINALLY that time of year when it finally doesn’t feel like a million degrees outside or that you’re swimming in the humidity every time you walk out the door. This year especially, going outside feels particularly powerful and therapeutic (for most – I recognize that this might not be everyone’s experience of nature!). As Hippocrates once said “Nature itself is the best physician.” But how exactly does going outdoors help us? Getting outside activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us and our bodies to feel calm. It also provides a great landscape to practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment on purpose) by providing a fun, ever changing sensory experience (i.e. bird song, leaves rustling, changing colors with the seasons). It can help children develop and enhance focus/attentional skills and promote feelings of calmness and relaxation.
With that, here are some suggested activities to do outdoors with kiddos. (Note: all activities were found and inspired by the book Mindfulness and Nature-Based Therapeutic Techniques for Children by Cheryl Fisher, PhD., NCC, LCPC, ACS)
Purpose: Helps children to focus attention and be present in the moment as they look and match color cards to natural items!
Supplies: Squares of color (paint samples or you can create your own!)
- Choose a color from your deck of color “cards” and hold onto it as you walk.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes. As you begin to walk, look all around and notice all the things that are similar in color to your card.
- As you notice something, share it out loud or quietly say it to yourself.
- When the timer is done, stop and select another color from the deck and repeat the steps!
- You can follow up with your child at the end of the walk with questions such as:
- “How was it to focus on your card?”
- “What surprised you about this?”
- “What did you notice?”
You can adapt this activity to fit the needs of your child. For example, ten minutes may seem challenging (which is understandable)! Start with setting the timer at 3-5 minutes and work on increasing the time. It doesn’t matter how many cards you are able to complete-the goals is to develop attentional skills at a safe pace 🙂
Tabletop Sand Garden
Purpose: To calm and focus the mind by creating a natural scene or environment in the sand box.
Supplies: Tupperware or plastic container with lid filled with sand, bag, natural items found in walk.
- Start by taking a walk in nature. Instruct your child to collect natural items that stand out to them (preferably ones that are not picked but lying on the ground already).
- Once your child has collected items, open the sand container. Place and arrange the natural items to create a scene or a design.
- Follow up with questions such as:
- “How was that for you?”
- “How did your mind/body feel while you were creating your scene?”
- “What does this mean to you?”
4. Once they have time to reflect, take the natural items and ask your child to replace the natural items in a place they choose outdoors.
If I were a Tree…
Purpose: Art activity to help children express themselves through a natural symbol.
Supplies: Paper, coloring utensil (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.)
- Find a spot in nature
- Close your eyes and imagine you are a tree
- Consider the following questions and read out loud to your child:
- What kind of tree would you be?
- Are you a young tree or an old tree?
- Do you have flowers or fruit?
- How do animals live around you?
- Do you have deep roots?
4. Draw your picture of the tree using paper and coloring materials
5. Consider follow-up/reflection with prompt such as “Tell me about your creation.”
Purpose: Enhance listening skills for attention and body/spatial awareness
Supplies: Large piece of paper, tape, cardboard, pencil
- Find a place outdoors that feels safe. Put the piece of paper in front of you and secure it by either taping it to a wall (if there is one) or by taping it to cardboard.
- Close your eyes and begin to listen to noises around you. Take your pencil and “map” out the sounds you hear and draw symbolically what they sound like to you (for example: maybe you hear birds chirping in front of you and you place it on the top of the paper with symbols).
- Map all sounds around you with shapes, lines, symbols to create a “sound symphony.”
- Once completed, open your eyes and title your piece.
- You can reflect with your child with suggested questions such as:
- “What was that like?”
- “Were some sounds easier to recognize? Were some harder to recognize?”
- “What surprised you about your map when you opened your eyes?”
Each of these activities can be modified to fit the needs of each child/teen completing them. Part of the process is to be with what unfolds, so if the activities don’t go exactly as planned, that is OK! Mindfulness is a practice that is ever-evolving.
While I hope these provide a way to harness nature’s power, my greater hope is that it gives you a fun bonding opportunity with your kiddos in the midst of a challenging time. Parenting is HARD and I see and value you, parents. Happy exploring, friends!