With the school year wrapping up, parents may be wondering how they can continue to keep their children engaged for the upcoming summer. Nature based activities, whether taking a mindful walk in a local park, or planting flowers at home, not only keep children active, but encourage them to learn and think about social connections.
According to some Indigenous ways of knowing, well being starts with and emerges from collective sources of connection. These collective vessels of connection involve our interdependent relationships with not only other humans, but all living beings (plants and nonhuman animals), as well as non living entities (the land and abiotic factors, such as rain and sunshine). When these relationships are caring, kind, and reciprocal, that fundamental sense of community, and therefore individual well being, is supported.
Realizing our many intricate connections with nature can stimulate curiosity and teach children that relationships are ongoing and reciprocal. The kind and respectful ways of relating, can mobilize through our humble interactions with nature and permeate other relationships in children’s lives, whether those are social connections with peers, other community members, or plants and non-human animals. For example, a child can use the same humble mindset they use while interacting with a tree to also interact with a bumblebee, with a dog, with their neighbour, or with their friend from school. Our interactions with nature don’t happen in a vacuum, and can influence all relationships and strengthen a sense of community bonding.
means aspiring to learn more beyond what we initially see at face value. The following activities can help support and cultivate curiosity by encouraging children to increase their awareness, tune into their five senses while engaging with nature, and to ask questions about their neighbours in nature.
Read books reflective of different cultures' connections with nature. For instance, reading books to learn from and connect with Indigenous culture can enable children to recognize and be curious about other ways of viewing nature. Indigenous learning can humbly ground us in our human presence within the wider interconnected ecological community. It can help us appreciate all the ways in which the land sustains our well being and, in turn, learn how to care for and support the well being of the land itself.
Surrey Libraries carries a variety of Indigenous picture books for kids: https://surrey.bibliocommons.com/list/show/152679921/608952787
Learn more about Indigenous authors and storytellers of these children’s books here: https://www.surreylibraries.ca/news/indigenous-authors-storytellers-children-series
Take a walk on a trail or in a park. Parents can refer to the City of Surrey Parks and Recreation Resources page to find various park and trail options within Surrey. No equipment is required for this activity. Just bring your closed toed shoes, presence, and sensory awareness! https://www.surrey.ca/parks-recreation/surrey-parks/find-park
Parents can also search the internet for local trails such as using the AllTrails Trail Guide website to locate specific trails: https://www.alltrails.com/. The self guided nature activities on the Surrey Parks and Recreational website are also an excellent resource for ideas on how to mindfully engage with nature, whether that involves admiring public art in parks or locating specific species of trees. This can help support mindfulness, presence, and simply enjoying the act of being with nature. https://www.surrey.ca/sites/default/files/media/documents/PublicArtParkCrawl.pdf
Identify neighbouring species of plants and animals. Families can identify the plant and animal species encountered on walks using books, the internet, or some apps such as the iNaturalist app. iNaturalist, founded by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, acts as a platform that pools together community member reports and identifications of local wildlife species, which are then used for tracking the species populations and distributions in local communities. Whether out in your backyard, taking a short stroll around the block, or in your local park, you can snap photos of various plant and animal species and identify them, contributing to an informative communal resource.
Geocaching. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt activity where parents and children can actively set out to find a specific “geocache”, or treasure box that a community member has laid out in a secret nature spot. The anticipation of discovery can increase the motivation to get outdoors and subsequently elevate the family’s collective sense of curiosity and excitement. There are several geocaching websites and apps that have local caches,such as www.geocaching.com.
is a bi-directional way of relating that involves both providing and receiving care. The following activities can enable parents and their children to recognize when they receive care from living and non-living entities in nature, and subsequently provide care for these living and non-living entities.
Setting up bird feeders. Building bird feeders provides birds with easy access to food
which helps them save energy that they would typically expend for finding food. It also helps a yard with insect control and pollination.
Here are several bird feeder crafts that you can do with your children.
Planting Flowers. Whether you are looking to plant seeds, nursery flowers, or want more advice on gardening, check out www.gardeningbc.com or the UBC Plant forum www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/forums/index.php.
Planting flowers can help provide habitat and food for pollinators such as bumblebees and butterflies. See this post by the David Suzuki Foundation on how to create a pollinator friendly garden: https://davidsuzuki.org/queen-of-green/create-pollinator-friendly-garden-birds-bees-butterflies/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzMT9-7fK8AIVpIFbCh1nFwlfEAAYASAAEgJiJPD_BwE
is a skillset that is not intuitive, but learned, and there are opportunities to practice this before, during, and after nature based activities. Practicing reflection can tie together and help us internalize the curiosity and reciprocity needed for healthy relationships. What can we do to practice reflection?
Journal about our connections with other species. Together, parents and their children can have some down time by journaling about what other species (plants, non-human animals, land) they have seen and received care from on a given day. Receiving care from nature can be in the form of food, having the space for tranquility or a peaceful walk, and/or acting as an inspirational source of beauty. When we feel cared for, we are then likely to have the capacity to care for others.
Families can also journal what they have learned from other species. Perhaps they have learned how to be patient and still from a tree, determination and boldness from a persistent crow, or strength and resilience from watching a tiny ant carry a heavy pebble across the sidewalk.
We often perceive humans as being the only active agents in nature, but we are having reciprocal exchanges of communication with other species all the time. In what other ways do we, and can we, communicate with others? Verbal language is not the sole contributor to relationships and connection. Non-verbal and visceral experiences are a major part of cultivating meaningful relationships.
The following is an example of a nature based journal prompt:
If a [insert species] could talk, what would they say? What does a [insert species] mean to you?
For more nature journal writing prompts for school aged children, refer to the following link:
Practicing a thankful address. Together, parents and children can practice being mindfully thankful for the gifts that nature offers by recognizing all the ways in which nature takes care of us. See the following for a guided activity:
Curiosity, reciprocity, and reflection,
are all important ingredients required for ongoing social connection and community. By continuously learning with and for nature, parents have the opportunity to ensure that their children are not only active, but constantly aware of the communal and interdependent connections that surround them on a daily basis. Seeing and being in these relationships then becomes a fundamental contributor to their learning, growth, and well being.