Why is it that we think of summer as the season that we spend outdoors? Sure, part of it is the cold of winter. Another part is the shorter days. And a third component is that kids are off to school in the other seasons. But if you really think about it, what really holds us back from “living outdoors” (figuratively, I mean—not literally) is simply our mindset that when summer is over you put away your shorts, and with them goes that summer idea of beach fires and all that this mental picture symbolically entails. So here are seven quick ideas for how to keep nature in your family life as long as possible this year.
- Walk to school if you live close enough. This certainly won’t apply to all families, but if it does, consider the amount of “outdoors” you and your kids can get, without even thinking about it. Think how much more of the outside you experience this way rather than driving in a car. And finally and most importantly, think of how this way when you have to concentrate on driving… and lengthens this interactive time by being slower than the car.
- Bike commuting or delivering kids to school by bike. This of course requires that you either ride with them, or if they’re small enough to be riding in a trailer, etc., that you ride them. This can be a little more time-sensitive, which is often appropriate when you’re talking about kids. Ideally, we would all have safe bike trails, etc. to allow kids to simply ride to school by themselves, but I wouldn’t suggest it at this point.
- After School Rituals are a great way to spend time outside- much like the last example, minus the school impetus. Maybe a walk before dinner? Or after dinner?
- Weekend Adventure is a way to talk about, if not spend time in, the outdoors throughout the week. Plan with the kids what that weekend’s adventure should be. Heck, let them choose!
- Cameras can be a good way to “re-experience” the outdoors, during the night after an adventure or perhaps later in the year. We have an older digital that we let our daughter use to take pictures of whatever she wants (obviously), then we can load onto the computer and she can look at as a slideshow. Clearly this depends on the child and what resources you may have at your disposal (a digital camera and computer are not cheap, but still, many of us have them for other reasons, and why not enrich your child with them, as well?). Quality pictures are a more “real” way of appreciating the outdoors than we sometimes think. Especially if the child has taken the photo themselves, it allows them to remember the moment vividly. Video cameras and the self-movies they create fall under this category too. You tell me what’s better to watch with your kids: Nat Geo movies, or movies the two of you have made together?
- Collections could be a good way to remember outdoor adventures, or a really great way to bring mess into your house. In our experience it’s a bit of both, to be honest. Enouraging your daughter to bring sticks and rocks inside is not the ideal way to keep house, but undoubtedly, enriches the outdoor experience. This principle has worked much better for us as specific projects, such as the time we built a ‘dream catcher’ from natural materials we found, telling my daughter that the more natural the materials, the more powerful its ability to capture dreams would be (which sounded to me pretty in-line with a Native American view of things). Sticks, string, a shell, some feathers (washed) and we had a rather pretty reminder of our time outdoors- and a convenient end to bad dreams, I might add.
- And finally, you can simply throw some “technology” at nature with some lights: One of the problems we’re talking about, clearly, is that they are in school until the afternoon, then as the year goes on, it begins to get dark soon after they get home. But remember, since time immemorial, human beings have used light to win this particular competition. How about a backyard fire pit? (I’m thinking of the buy-it-at-home-depot version, but if you have the means, land, or local laws to build a permanent version…). Or a walk with some flashlights? This can bring alive the night in a very interesting way and make it less scary for kids.
In keeping with our passion for great music, today’s title refers to the inestimable Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name.