Got dirt? “In South Carolina, a truckload of dirt is the same price as a video game!” reports Norman McGee, a father in that state who bought a small pickup-load of dirt for his daughter and friends.
As McGee’s photo shows, the dirt was a great success. I told his story a few years ago in this space. The story is worth repeating. So is Liz Baird’s idea — along with a few others.
Liz keeps a “wonder bowl” available for her children. When she was a little girl she would fill her pockets with natural wonders—acorns, rocks, mushrooms. “My Mom got tired of washing clothes and finding these treasures in the bottom of the washer or disintegrated through the dryer,” Liz recalls.“So she came up with ‘Liz’s Wonder Bowl,’ and the idea was that I could empty my pockets into the bowl. I could still enjoy my treasures, and try to find out what things were, and not cause trouble with the laundry.”
What’s your family doing in the coming months, not only to help your kids be healthier, happier and smarter — but to help you too? Here are ten suggestions. Please share your own in the comments section below:
1. Think simple: Create a wonder bowl like Liz’s, or buy a pickup load of dirt, like Norman did. Some of the best places to play, and toys, are the simplest and least expensive. Did you know that the National Toy Hall of Fame has inducted the cardboard box and the stick?
2. Invite native flora and fauna into your life. Maintain a birdbath. Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Build a bat house. For backyard suggestions, plus links to information about attracting wildlife to apartments and townhouses, see the National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard.
3. Start a Family Nature Club. Download C&NN’s guide to creating a network of like-minded families who want to get their kids outside, but need the support of others to help make that happen. It’s a new form of social networking! New: The Family Nature Guide is now also available in Spanish.
4. Encourage your kids to build a tree house, fort, or hut. But don’t do it for them. You can provide the raw materials, including sticks, boards, blankets, boxes, ropes, and nails, but it’s best if kids are the architects and builders. The older the kids, the more complex the construction can be. For understanding and inspiration, read “Children’s Special Places” by David Sobel. And here’s a column from a few weeks ago on that topic.
5. Suggest camping in the backyard. Buy them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee, and leave it up all summer. Join the NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout.
6. Become a Natural Leader. Being a nature mentor isn’t just a job for parents and grandparents. Young people helping other young people get outside is catching on. For example, in Mississippi, teenager Josh Morrison founded Geeks in the Woods with his friends. He defines ” geek” as a ” gaming environmentally educated kid,” and says he and his friends—” tired of being labeled” tech addicts—can have their PlayStations and their outdoor time too.
7. Find a guide book. Consider “I Love Dirt” or Joseph Cornell’s classic “Sharing Nature With Children” or “Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature” or “The Nature Connection.” (More suggestions here.)
8. Go online. Take a look at the growing number of good online guides for parents. Among them: the free online Parents’ Guide to Nature Play offered by the Green Hearts Institute. The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Rocks, created in alliance with C&NN, ecoAmerica, REI, the American Camp Association, and other groups, offers a “family fun nature planner” plus tools to help guide and plan your adventures, including a Family Nature Staycation guide. Also, a “Find Nature” feature — plug in your ZIP code and find out about nature activities near your home.
9. Join the movement. C&NN’s partners and initiatives encourage people of all ages to get outside. Please see C&NN’s directory of programs and activities.
10. Relieve your stress. All the health benefits that come to a child come to the adult who takes that child into nature. Children feel better after spending time in the natural world, even if it’s in their own backyard. So do adults, who have Nature-Deficit Disorder, too.
Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which includes an appendix of 100 Actions for families and communities.
Follow Richard Louv on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter