Getting Outside Has Never Been So Meaningful

by the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership team

A family visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, pre-COVID-19. The Garden is currently closed through June 30, 2020, but is offering virtual tours and other activities for families. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

Hello from the entire Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team! Now, more than ever, people are discovering (or re-discovering) what we all know so well: that being outside is healthful, restorative, joyful, and, hopefully, just makes you feel better about life. With that said, during this time of COVID-19 and the need to practice social distancing, we decided to work together on a post with information and resources about various outdoor activities for adults to do with children. Some of the activities are more passive, like viewing nature; others are nature craft-focused; and some are more active, getting everyone outside and movement-oriented.

Please feel free to share these resources widely and, even better, share your favorite outdoor family or inter-generational “quaranteam” activity with our PPN LinkedIn group. Let’s keep this conversation going and make time to experience all that nature offers us and the young people in our lives, in a safe and responsible way.

Resources for Outdoor Activities with Your Children

The Discover Landscape Architecture Activity Book for Children from ASLA is a free, downloadable publication full of hands-on ideas that introduce children to four of the building blocks that landscape architects apply to designing outdoor spaces. ASLA’s Tools for Teachers page offers additional educational resources and activities.

The National Park Foundation has a page highlighting Park Activities You Can Do from the Comfort of Your Home. Also, look for resources available through your state, county, and local park associations. Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, shared this San Diego resource, for example: San Diego Children and Nature.

Heidi Cohen, ASLA, also shared a couple of great resources: the Austin Parks Foundation has a blog with many family-focused outdoor activities. The Trust for Public Land’s New York City office has compiled activities and programming ideas that can be done at community playgrounds/schoolyards. Recent posts include connecting to nature and your schoolyard from home.

Discover magazine published an article called, “Cooped up at Home? Here Are 7 Ways to Take Part in Online Science Projects and Activities.” Science has never been more fun! published an article called, “Getting Children Outside with Social Distancing for COVID-19.” It contains outdoor activity suggestions for younger and older children.

Green Schoolyards America offers several information filled outdoor activity guides.

Nature Play at Home, a collaboration between the National Wildlife Federation and NC State’s Natural Learning Initiative (NLI), can be accessed online as a downloadable PDF. Speaking of the NLI, another great DIY resource with nature themed activities that they have created is GreenDesk.

There are many botanic gardens throughout the world now offering virtual tours. This link will take you to several. One idea, for if you want to go beyond viewing: after watching the tour, you and your children might go outside and find flowers, plants, etc., that are the same, similar, or different to what you saw online. Draw pictures, take photos, talk about what you see. Or, watch the tours outside. There are no set rules; do whatever works best for your family or team!

In addition to offering virtual tours, the Chicago Botanic Garden is regularly publishing outdoor family centered outdoor activities on its Family Activity Guide. A couple of recent ideas that we found on the site are Garden Bingo and Seeding Your Lawn.

Several Simple Ideas to Do with Your Children

Here are several of our favorite outdoor ideas that we like to do with our children (and offers even more):

  • Depending on your living situation, in whatever outside space you have, build a tent or fort out of sheets and whatever creative objects that your children find. While inside the tent or fort, read, tell stories, draw, sing, play games, or have a picnic.
  • At night, go outside and gaze up at the stars.
  • Go on a backyard expedition to identify simple and unique shapes found in nature.
  • Smart device apps such as PlantSnap, PlantNet, and Picture This are helpful in teaching your children to identify plants. It is never to soon to start them on the path to learning their plants!

While outsides, see how successful you and your children are at distinguishing native vs. invasive plants. Here are a couple of guides that might be helpful:

For Adults to Learn More

An inspirational read we recommend is “More than Ever, We Need Nature. It Makes Us and Our Children Happier.” Additional resources to boost your understanding about nature deficit disorder are available through TED Talks, videos, and documentaries. There are many. For instance, check out Richard Louv’s “We Need New Ways to Connect with Nature.”

Nature Play: A Prescription for Healthier Children” is a great article full of resources for children’s gardening and outdoor play.

If you were unable to catch the live presentation, please take the time to listen to the thought-provoking Community Engagement During the Pandemic and Beyond webinar, from the Landscape Architecture Foundation. The recording is now available.

Before signing off, we wanted to share part of a recent conversation we had about going forward post-pandemic and what children’s outdoor spaces might look like. Could there be more pocket parks / smaller play areas, with fewer children playing together at one time? Or will parks get bigger, with more play structures to allow for social distancing? Will there be changes to how and what materials are used, what materials might be used for wayfinding, will copper be used more, given its antimicrobial properties?

One huge unanswered question (and yes, concern) is: how will play change?

We would like to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments below or via the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN LinkedIn group.

Thank you from the entire COE PPN leadership team, and be healthy, safe, strong, and positive.

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