How to rewild your child... when you can't leave the house
As parents have had to lock down with their kids, children have become acquainted with the simple pleasures of an outdoor cookout or digging in the dirt for worms
Now that our children are forced to rely on screens, for schoolwork, communication with friends and family and most activities, from morning PE sessions to online classes, spending time outside - when, where possible and within current guidelines - has never felt more important.
London children need rewilding more than their countryside-dwelling counterparts, since most have small gardens or terraces, or no outdoor space at all. Of course, one need only step out the door to appreciate that there is plenty of natural beauty all around, something everyone's been noticing as they inhale the cleaner air, see the stars sparkling more brightly in the night sky and find themselves meditating to birdsong in the afternoons (yes, this has been happening to us).
Before the crisis, charities like London Play were helping London parents to create Play Streets, where residential blocks could be closed to cars for an afternoon or an hour, once a week or once a month, so children could play together, parents could meet neighbours and local communities could strengthen - a brilliant initiative for outdoor-space starved Londoners.
This is in turn helped inspire the School Streets scheme to shut roads outside schools to cars at drop-off and pick-up, an eco-friendly scheme to make cycling and walking to school more appealing and the air around schools easier to breathe.
While playing outside with friends is off-limits for the time-being, there is a lot of outdoor fun to be had while self-isolating. Here are some activities, nature crafts, indoor camping ideas and more that you and the kids will love...
Photo: Josh Campbell
Become an adventurer online: Ben Fogle's Instagram is the destination for would-be adventurers to check out. He's running The Adventure Class on Instagram Live at 4pm daily - from his kids' tree house, no less - where he's teaching kids life lessons from his Mount Everest trek and row across the Atlantic.
Do some gardening together: People often assume that gardening requires a garden, when really, all you need is a window box or even an old welly boot you can stick some soil and seeds into.
We've got some lovely tips on how to garden with kids from the RHS, which include upcycling bits to create a bug hotel and creating a mini pond surrounded by stones and plants. Also, filling a few pots with seeds that will grow into herbs and vegetables is an important lesson in where food comes from - and kids will love tasting the results when they sprout!
Light a fire: From nightly BBQs to roasting sausages over the "campfire," if you do have a bit of outdoor space, use it to enjoy meals outside.
One campfire ritual you can absolutely master if you have a firepit? S'mores, which couldn't be easier, or tastier. All you need are biscuits (traditionally, it's graham crackers, but those are hard to come by in the best of times), chocolate and marshmallows, which kids love roasting over the flames. The Naked Marshmallow Co even has a pre-made kit - including everything you need for the roasting. Happy camping adventure!
Photo: Zach Dowdy
Go camping, indoors or out: One of our mantras since lockdown began has been to say "yes" to the kids more often. Yes to moving around a load of chairs, throwing some sheets on them and reading by torchlight in their makeshift den.
Yes to pitching up a pop-up tent in the living room, letting them move all of their essentials inside, and sleeping in it every night. Also yes to moving that tent outdoors and sleeping in the garden when they like.
Check out how other camping fiends are getting their fix indoors at #thevirtualcampsite and #goindoors, or spend Easter weekend "camping" with #StayHomeCamp or Splashy Fen Festival's #splashytentchallenge.
Embrace mindfulness, outdoors: We've all got the kids moving with Joe Wicks each morning - and perhaps we're even managing to do a few online workouts, ourselves.
Let's take it one step further, literally, moving our meditations, fitness classes and even naps outside. Mindfulness for kids is crucial at all times, especially disruptive, high-anxiety moments like what we're currently living through. It's amazing how therapeutic playing "Let it Go" while twirling around the garden or terrace in fancy dress can be.
Photo: Lubo Mirkin
Make some nature art: You're likely doing more arts and crafts than ever in your house at the moment, and making those crafts nature-focused is a good way to get your kids outdoors - especially if they see wildlife interacting with their creations.
The Woodland Trust has some lovely ideas, like turning a loo roll into a bird feeder (just take a loo roll, add peanut butter and bird seed and tie it up with string) or using leaves and sticks as art tools. You can also buy DIY bird feeder kits for the kids to paint and decorate, or encourage them to make their own fairy house to leave outside.
Chalk and chalk pens allow children to get crafting outside, either in the garden or outside the front door. People are loving the rainbows and positive messages kids have been drawing on the sidewalks.
Let "unschooling" guide you: Unschooling is a term that's been around for a while - Alanis Morrisette is a fan - and in a nutshell, it's the antithesis to homeschooling. Instead of rigid structure and timed, thematic lessons, unschooling is about letting your child guide their educational pursuits, which may very well involve spending a morning digging around in the mud.
While we will absolutely be sending our kids back to schools once they reopen, we like the idea of embracing unschooling in these weeks or months that we're home, perhaps combining some of the set schoolwork with letting our kids ask all the questions and encouraging them to help with cooking and chores, while they paint flowers and bang sticks together the rest of the time.
Photo: Holger Link
Bond with wildlife: Now that we're avoiding people, most of us have been using our daily walks to cycle through parks and say hi to the ducks, geese, swans and their babies who we happen to see there. Or maybe we're just cuddling the animals we have at home even closer and enjoying those mindful, hardly populated walks or runs with our dogs or yoga sessions with a cat staring at us.
If you don't have animals, or access to them, many parents are using this moment to order Insect Lore's Butterfly Live Butterfly Garden kit, which allows kids to watch The Very Hungry Caterpillar story unfold in real-time - they love it. You can also take the kids on a virtual safari or zoo trip online.
GeoSafari's My First Microscope
Outdoor play: Toddlers in the house? Some outdoor kit may come in handy, like a sand and water play table (some can even be disguised in picnic tables) or a mud kitchen. In fact, if you were thinking of getting rid of the indoor toy kitchen your kids haven't played with in months, but aren't sure what to do with it, now might be the time to move it outdoors so kids can get messy, all in the name of bonding with, and discovering, nature.
Get inspired by outdoor mud clubs (which normally run in parks and commons around London) and dig up some old kitchen utensils for outside play: bowls and digging tools like spoons and sandpit spades will also come in handy for little diggers. Plus, kids can use the bowls for sensory potion making and mixing - messy but good fun.
You can also encourage their scientific minds to develop with tools like Geosafari's microscope, which magnifies 8x, and 3x magifying Kidnoculars - perfect for bug hunters out on their daily exploration.
Photo: Siora Photography
Turn your garden into a beach: After last summer's insane heat wave, we've all got a paddling pool - and when you're a child, you're just as happy splashing around the garden as you are in a poolside resort. Turn the hose on and pretend your kids are running through the King's Cross Granary Square fountains, fill the paddling pool and journey on a boat somewhere exciting and lay out some beach towels and grab the ice creams. Perfection.
Talk through those local produce deliveries: For those parents fortunate to be able to support local businesses with local grocery deliveries, many have noticed a rather unexpected lockdown side-effect: instead of eating worse, they're eating better.
That translates to fewer snacks, less meat and more plant-based meals, as well as a selection of a rainbow of fruit and veg at most meals, many of which might not be on the menu usually.
We've recently discovered the benefits of passion fruit, red cabbage, pomegranate and Jerusalem artichokes - as well as leek and potato pie - and are getting creative with our leftover fruit and veg, learning about when, how and where these items grow, as we try to minimise our food waste. Who knew eating lunch could translate into a learning opportunity?
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