“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
Now that the weather is warming up and the days are lengthening it’s a great time to rediscover the world out-of-doors.
In a recent blog I outlined some of the reasons we need to get our bums off the sofa, our noses away from our screens and get out into somewhere green and, preferably, wild. If, like us, you live in a city then the challenge can be even greater.
The consequences for ourselves, our children, our communities and the future wellbeing of the planet are all dire if we fail to resist our desire for comfort and the pull of the virtual, rather than the real, world.
So here are a few ideas that we’ve used to help the whole family have more fun outside than in:
- Get excited about it and your kids will too
If the kids see us excited about going out in all kinds of weather, and if we can make the experience fun then all things are possible.
It’s important to avoid darting indoors at the slightest hint of rain, cold or any discomfort.Children hardly notice adverse weather unless we train them to do so by our reactions.
- Get some decent all-weather clothing
There’s a Norwegian saying: ‘ There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing”. Invest in some welly boots and solid waterproof leggings and jackets and say goodbye to rainy days indoors. Thanks to a Swedish god-parent we’ve come to love ‘Polarn o Pyret’ outdoor wear. Pricey new but some great bargains on e-bay.
We also use a large golfing umbrella when it’s not convenient to kit up completely for mucky weather.
- Eating outside
We eat outside at every convenient and sometimes inconvenient moment. After lots of practise we’ve fine-tuned the art of preparing picnics (or a meal in the garden) quite promptly and with relatively little effort. In summer we usually eat nearly all our meals (except breakfast) outside, being blessed with a decking area just outside the kitchen.
By taking little snacks with us we are able to avoid nipping into cafes, restaurants or shops. The aim is to make eating outside the default in all but the wettest and coldest weathers.
Even in winter we have found ways of eating ‘in green places’. On a mild day we use a park or picnic bench with a blanket to sit on or keep us warm. We also move around a lot! On colder days we find a bench in the heated glasshouses at places like Kew Gardens and RHS Wisley- these are a great, virtually out-of-doors alternative!
- Invest in annual memberships for local gardens.
It would be great if everything offering outside space was free but certainly for us in SW London there are some wonderful opportunities to visit amazing gardens, woods and landscapes all year round for a relatively small annual fee. We probably visit Kew Gardens 20-30 times a year (a 20 minute drive) and this has proved indispensible in winter when even the hardiest of us need to have an indoor retreat occasionally.
- Discover resources for exploring the outdoors
The National Trusts App “50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾” has some great ideas for ‘outdoor challenges’.
A friend of mine recommends Lynn Seddon’s downloadable ‘Exploring nature with children; A complete year-long curriculum’ ($15).
If your kids are into the natural world then it can be fun to take photos on your smart-phone and use one of the many wildlife lovers’ apps to give you all the info about it. For example there are apps for such things as bird songs and plants amongst many others…
- Give them space to explore
As parents we can be unhelpfully over-protective. Alison and I try and encourage our kids to explore by themselves woods, fields, streams, beaches, hills etc. As they are still quite young (3 and 4) we keep a distant eye on them but we believe it is vital that children learn to explore, take risks and learn from their experiences without parents constantly shielding them from all potential harm.
Without this exposure to the unpredictability and variability that nature uniquely offers, kids grow up without the resources to cope with the challenges that life as an adult inevitably brings.
- Leave the car at home
We minimise car journeys by walking to the shops, cycling to the park or scooting to church.
Most of the presents our kids receive are quickly forgotten but two of the exceptions are bikes and scooters- these are far more important presents than anything with a screen. We have also invested in child seats for our bikes and the kids love riding with us all over.
- Further idea’s we’ve tried
We point out trees, flowers, birds etc as we drive or walk.
We allow the kids to get a bit muddy and learn the fun of playing with water.
This spring we’ve allocated them a small patch of garden each where they can choose what to plant and which, with a little help from daddy, they look after…
We have some binoculars handy near the back window and are always on the look out for any birds getting close.
When out in the countryside we try and take them outside after dark and get them excited about the various sights and sounds.
Let’s get serious about giving our kids the best kind of preparation for life. God has given us the whole, wild world to discover and enjoy; let’s invite them into the adventure, not try and protect them from it.
Or as JRR Tolkien put it “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”.