Hello my name is Gemma and I’m nature photographer, activity blogger and mum of two busy boys. For me blogging is all about sharing my love of nature and passion for wildlife conservation, as well as helping parents, teachers and childcare providers by sharing free, easy and affordable activity ideas.
It is also a great opportunity to encourage people (children especially) to care about nature and the environment around them. We protect the things we care about, and in order to get more people to care about the wonderful world around us we first have to get them to enjoy it.
Being able to connect with nature is also important for our physical and mental well being. Many studies have shown that spending time outdoors in nature helps lower levels of anxiety, stress and depression in both adults and children.
Nature can be therapeutic in so many ways, it helps stimulate the senses, brightens your mood and take your mind of negative thoughts. Engaging in the immediate world around you helps you to be present and mindful but it can also help you to switch off mentally and find a sense of peace. Its especially useful for helping children to calm themselves down and regulate their emotions.
My children are different children outside they are more carefree and adventurous, we love exploring outdoor spaces and running wild and free in together. For me it’s the general sense of well being and happiness I get just from being outside and close to nature. The enjoyment of finding or learning something new and the therapeutic pleasure of nature photography.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ― Henry David Thoreau
There are so many different ways you can connect with nature from going on a nature walk or picnic to gardening, wildlife watching, meditating, forest bathing or just simply sitting and listening to the sights and sounds around you.
1. Tune into your Surroundings
Find a comfortable, safe place to sit, stand or lie down. Close your eyes take a few deep breathes and listen to your heart beat. Slowly tune into the environment around you by focusing on one sense at a time. feel the air on your skin and the grass or ground beneath your feet, listen to the sounds around you from rustling leaves to running water, can you smell the flowers, plants and grass. Relax and let your mind drift with your senses. When you are ready to come back to earth take a few more deep breaths and open you eyes, look at the colours, patterns and textures all around you. Slowly start to move your arms and legs and stretch before you get up.
2. Go Cloud Watching
Cloud watching is a wonderfully calming and fun activity. The human brain naturally has the ability to turn random shapes and patterns into recognisable objects and animals. It is a helpful developmental ability that enables us to make sense of the world around us. When you are cloud watching your brain will automatically start to look for recognisable shapes so you can have great fun finding cloud bunnies like the one we spotted below. If you are with friends or family you can talk about the shapes you see and see what different shapes other people find.
3. Explore Textures and Engage Your Sense
Find a tree or plant and explore the different textures of bark or leaves, run your hands through grass, splash in water and engage your sense of touch. Don’t forget that you have nerve endings all over your body not just in your hands so you could engage your sense of touch by going bare feet in grass, water or in sand, or by running blades of grass and leaves across your face, arms and legs.
4. Go Forest Bathing
Forest bathing (or shinrin yoku) is the Japanese practise of being calm and quiet amongst trees, breathing deeply and observing the natural world around you. You just need to find a quiet woodland space and tune into your surroundings. Again you could find a comfortable, safe place to sit, stand or lie down whilst you breathe deeply and absorb the environment around you. You can also find 30 more ideas for Exploring trees and woods here.
5. Stop and Smell the Roses
Flowers like roses and other flowering plants like lavender often emit scents comprising of essential oils and compounds to attract pollinators. Taking time to smell the heady scent of flowering plants can be incredibly therapeutic as it releases endorphins and engages your mind and senses. Take time to notice the difference in scent between different flowers and look for calming herbs like lavender and mint to enjoy.
6. Go on Nature Walks
Walking is great for your physical and mental wellbeing, it also helps to release muscle tension and relax your mind. You can walk as slowly or as fast as you like, and you can either switch of and simply enjoy the rhythm and sensation of walking or alternately use it as an opportunity to take in the natural world around you. Splash in puddles, crunch through leaves and feel the wind or sun on your face.
7. Listen for Birdsong
Birds sing and call for a variety of reasons. Calls tend to be short sounds that the birds use to send warnings about threats or to let others know where they are. Whereas bird song is a more rhythmic string of sounds repeated in sequence that birds use to attract mates or to mark and defend a territory. You can easily listen out for and enjoy birdsong on nature walks. Close your eyes and listen carefully, can you hear a variety of different calls and songs from different species? The Wildlife Trusts have a great audio guide to identifying bird song here. And you can find over 33 bird activity ideas + fun facts here.
8. Watch a Sunset or Sunrise
The change of light at twilight brings a beautiful array of colours across the sky as the sun sets or rises. Can you sense the change in the world of sound and atmosphere of movement around you as animals start settling down to sleep or are beginning to wake up. How about taking some paints and paper or a camera with you so you can capture all the different colours you see.
9. Start a Nature Journal
Nature journals are simply notebooks that you can feel with your thoughts, feelings and observations of the natural world around you. You could fill them with drawings, words, poems, songs or stories or even collage in found natural materials. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. It is a great way to engage your mind in a creative and reflective way.
It is also a great way to look back over a period of time and remind yourself of all the positive and feel good experiences you have had. We tend to remember or focus on the negative and bigger things in life so we often overlook and forget about the simple pleasures and enjoyment we get from like. You could even start a community journal to share with others so each person adds a different thing each day.
10. Make Nature Art
Nature art is a great outdoor activity that encourages creativity and fine motor skills. It is also a fun and engaging mindfulness activity. Simply collect as many natural objects as you can find around you. You could use leaves, stones, grass, bark, fallen fruit and flowers. *But pretty please don’t pick any wild flowers, only collect ones you have grown yourself or fallen ones you find on the floor. Then arrange them into shapes, pictures or patterns.
11. Explore a Shore, River or Lake
Explore a shore and enjoy the freshness of the wind, breathe in the smell of the sea air, listen to the sound of the waves and enjoy the textures of the sand or stones under foot. If you can’t get to a shore find a river, stream, pond or lake and enjoy the sound of the water and watch the reflections, ripples and light on the surface of the water. You can find over 20 activity ideas for exploring the shore here.s
12. Enjoy Gardening
Did you know that gardening and growing your own food is good for your physical and mental health? Gardening releases stress reducing endorphins and helps with fine motor skills and cognitive functions (especially in adults with additional needs like dementia) , gardening also helps give you a sense of achievement which boosts self-esteem and confidence. You don’t even need a garden to feel the benefits of growing plants and food, as you can use window boxes, hanging baskets or grow your plants indoors on window sills or shelves. You find 20 Gardening activity ideas + STEM here.
If you enjoy these ideas then please visit Childsplayabc where you will find a variety of educational nature and wildlife activities for all ages and abilities, From science, sensory and foraging to arts, crafts and recipes.