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Suggestions Around Nature to Help Get You and Your Family Through the Coronavirus Pandemic!

COVID-19 blog series


We are all trying to self-isolate with social distancing and simultaneously be outdoors exercising. For those living in densely populated urban areas this can be extremely challenging. Here are a few suggestions which might help parents and children get through these trying times.

Take a walk/hike – this is obviously dependent on where you live and whether parks are still open. Use your space even if it is just the driveway from the road to your apartment block or the sidewalk or laps around your apartment rooftop or even in the corridor of your apartment block.

Children are so inventive, and this is a great opportunity to tap into their amazing imaginations. Play the “Walk this way” game and pretend you are at the zoo and they can hop like a kangaroo or stalk like a lion or swing like a monkey from tree to tree. Let them take the lead and you will soon be in a wonderful fantasy world. Bring toys or props to make it more fun like hats and fake swords.

As you walk, listen to the sounds perhaps of birds singing or cars going by or ambulance sirens and try to identify where they are coming from and where they may be going to. As the cities are so much quieter, let them also identify sounds they normally wouldn’t hear. For example, the leaves rustling in the trees or a mouse squeaking as it forages for food.

Look up at the cloud formations and see what you can make being imaginative. For example, a rabbit or a mountain; again you will be amazed what the children can see.

Go camping in the backyard, rooftop or deck or balcony – if you have a tent, use it or borrow one or better still, encourage your children to create their own from a blanket and poles or sticks. Scarves or tablecloths draped over a chair work just as well to create somewhere they can be away from supervision and in their own space! Encourage them to forage for food (imaginary) and even if you dare, let them run inside and out again to collect provisions from the fridge. If you don’t have a yard, in the old days before air-conditioning, folk would drag a mattress or spread a sleeping bag on a flat roof or fire escape (I know we must be aware of health and safety but we can still be creative whist conforming!)

Digging in the dirt and make a mud kitchen – my favorite! If you have a backyard, set aside a piece of ground for children to dig in. Research suggests that children strengthen their immune systems by playing in the dirt. Create a mud kitchen on the balcony or rooftop using a builder’s tray, a bag of soil, a bucket of water and old kitchen utensils. If in the yard, children can collect twigs, flowers, etc. to create their own concoctions and potions. In South Carolina, Norman McGee bought a pickup truckload of dirt and delivered it to his yard for his children to play in. He reports that the dirt pile cost less than a video game and lasted much longer! Amusingly in the U.K., Amanda Holden—who is a judge on Britain’s Got Talent– tells the story of her ordering soil for her children to play in and being totally mortified when a truck arrived with a ton of soil and her husband remarking to a neighbor that he would be burying her in that mound of soil – even in hard times a sense of humor helps!

Pick a “Sit Spot” – Jon Young suggests you find a special place in nature, under a tree at the bottom of your yard, a hidden bend in a creek or the rooftop of an apartment building. Get to know it by day and by night, in rain, sunshine or even snow. Get to know the trees that live there or the birds and insects that visit. Get to know them as if they were relatives. Doing this can reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness. If possible, build a den or a fort to “escape,” which helps with problem solving, creativity, planning and gives a sense of security. This can be done using branches and planks or cardboard boxes and sheeting.

Can’t go outside today – set up a world watching window to bring the outside in – Dr. De John Pluma suggests finding a window with a view where you can cloud spot, bird watch and more. Keep handy a nature notebook, binoculars, camera, etc.

Find nature everywhere and create more of it – National Geographic offers an online guide Finding Urban Nature” that can help city dwellers. You can invite wildlife back to your own yard by planting a simple garden with, for example, a Buddleia bush (obtain via mail order) to encourage butterflies. Make a mini pond using little more than a plastic tub, sand, a few rocks and some water. Wildlife Watch, UKshows how to make a small oasis for aquatic and amphibious backyard creatures.

Plant a family or friendship tree or adopt one! – Adopt or plant a tree to help mark important family occasions such as birthdays, marriages, deaths or holidays.  Get to know a tree or shrub in your garden or neighborhood intimately by observing it over the course of a season. Check it every few days and take photos. Make bark rubbings using crayons and paper. Make a digital adoption notebook with photos, videos and observations.

Be an electronic wildlife watcher – thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Conservation Training Center you can watch, in real time, a bald eagle nest. While Audubon’s “Great Backyard Bird Count” ended in February, their website can help inspire a young birdwatcher in your life.

Read or give a book that will inspire an outdoor adventure – The books most likely to inspire children outdoors are about adventure or wonder, e.g., Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, etc. For me, it was Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Magic Faraway Tree bookswhere I had my most wonderful adventures imaginatively. Read Brightly has a list of picture books that can bring the same sense of outdoor wonder to young readers. (Is your library closed during the crisis? Check their website to find out how to access their “e” library, or use the search features from these major ebook library providers to find your system – cloudLibrary, Hoopla, and OverDrive).

Tell your own nature stories – Children love to hear stories of when you were young and an adventure you may have had going on a hike and getting lost or shooting rapids on the Chattanooga River! Coming from South Africa, the story the children begged me to tell time and time again was how I was one day running around our house with my brother and jumping over what we thought was a stick lying in the grass, but in fact it was a puff adder (a venomous viper) lying snoozing in the sun and how our gardener grabbed us out of harm’s way. The children asked for this story every day and would then embellish it to make us sound so daring like Indiana Jones, when in reality it was a very mild affair!

Home in on your child’s imagination and go on great adventures with them even if it is just in your own living room and try to make the most of this extraordinary time and have fun!

Mary MacKenzie

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