Being outside, getting dirty, messing about, searching for bugs – things that children love and which are also good for them. Here’s more from Tanya Sweeney in the Irish Independent
Park life: Don’t be a stick in the mud and let kids be at one with nature
We already know that the benefits of getting closer to nature – emotional, physical and psychological – are manifold. From reacquainting kids with farm animals and combing the coastline for natural treasures to highlighting the importance of conservation and mucking about with mud, there are easy ways to recreate the Nature Camp.
1. Let things get mucky
The great news is that once you enter a parkland or forest, kids’ natural instincts to explore and enjoy free play kick in.
Angie Kinsella, who runs forest schools for Nature Way Education (natureway.ie), notes: “Let kids get mucky. It’s only an item of clothing. Besides, the memories they make are huge. Go looking for a squirrel’s nest. In a park or forest, make a ‘mini animal mansion’ – a little shelter with twigs or leaves, where mini creatures can hang out.”
2. Visit a farm
The country has plenty of activity farms where little ones can get hands-on experience with small animals, from chicken and piglets to lambs and goats. Airfield Estate in Dundrum has reopened (for pre-booked visits only, see airfield.ie for details), while the Wooly Wards Farm in Moneyball, Tipperary, holds events where visitors can handle the animals. Woolywoodsfarm.com has details on how to book.
3. Start a bug hunt
Find a sheet online listing the different insects you can find in a typical Irish woodland, and try to find them and tick them off the list. Likewise, there are several online resources about Irish trees. Do a mini-treasure hunt or even go searching for something as simple as a spiky leaf or a ladybird. Best of all, it’s the sort of activity that needs next to no equipment.
3. Access online resources
If you’d prefer that your days in the park, woodland or beach are a little more ‘structured’, some handy downloads are available. Get involved in a project like Seed Savers (irishseedsavers.ie), which is dedicated to preserving native fruits and vegetables, or An Taisce’s Green Schools is a great way to get kids more excited about nature.
Your local conservation group will also be able to give you plenty of pointers on how to run a good ‘camp’. The US- website Science Buddies (sciencebuddies.org) also has plenty of ideas and study aids to get you started.
4. Explore pond life
You’d be surprised how much fun stuff you’ll find in a local pond. Katie Long, owner and manager of Pine Forest Art Centre in Glencullen (pineforestartcentre.com) encourages her young workshop attendees to get up close and personal with the centre’s on-site pond.
“We collect stuff outside to use in art activities; we point out animals and we teach kids about the lifecycle of tadpoles and newts in our pond,” she explains.
5. Go foraging for food
A wealth of foodstuffs is waiting to be discovered in the great wide open, from wild garlic and dandelions to berries (especially in late summer). Buy Food For Free by Richard Mabey (€4.99 at Easons) will give you several inspirational ideas for your own family foodie adventure.
6. Make artworks
What better way to commemorate your own nature camp than creating an artwork? Collect plant specimens, leaves and twigs from your local green space and add them to text and drawings later on. Some scissors, glue and card paper will help your little ones get creative. Alternatively, a daily walk can be livened up by turning it into a photography session.
7. Incorporate technology
No doubt you’ll be keen to minimise screen time in your own personal nature camp, but sometimes it can be a great way to tap into useful information.
“Finding ways to integrate technology with the outdoors is the way forward,” says Andy Noble of the Nature Kindergarten at Park Academy Childcare in Wicklow. “Instead of demonising it, use it as a tool to help children find out more about nature and to plan fun outdoor activities such as scavenger hunts.”
Incorporating nature facts is a great way to make your scavenger hunt even more educational.
8. Learn wilderness survival skills
Take a leaf out of the ever-popular Brigit’s Garden summer camps in Galway, who are running Wilderness Survival Skills workshops this August (see brigidsgarden.ie for information). On the activity list for the five-day camp is animal tracking, cooking of wild plants, shelter and den building, knot tying and rope-swing making. Adult supervision is recommended: who knows, if you decide to stage a survival skills workshop for your little ones, you may even learn a thing or two yourself.
Find more interesting articles on parenting in the Irish Independent at https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/