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Oregon Family Magazine

Hope in Hard Times

04/01/2020 ● By Beth Stein
Feel like your family’s world is tilting off its axis these days? You’re not alone. With news reports that seem more like science fiction than reality, kids stuck at home for the foreseeable future, and routines in complete turmoil, it’s easy to feel off balance. So where can a family find solid ground?

To start, take a moment to step outside or open a window.  Touch the earth, or look into the distance, find a tall tree, and imagine that’s you, rooted deep in the soil. Feel the solid ground beneath you, real or imagined. Notice…it’s not shaking, even though you may be.

Indeed, the spinning earth is even now circling the sun, just as it has for eons.  And Spring still arrived, right on schedule, complete with a rainbow of colors, symphony of birdsong, and the rich fragrances of rainfall and wildflowers. Resilient nature is alive and well, full of hope, and present right in your yard, nearby natural areas, and outside your open windows.

So how can your family tap into this source of free and abundant comfort, plus get excited about “nature-schooling”?!

First - if you have a yard, it’s time to explore every inch of that outdoor natural space. Here are some simple ideas on how to get started.

  • Pick a spot and create a Dig Inn.  Set aside a special space or fill a plastic tub with soil just for digging, mud pie making, and the like. If you don’t have hand trowels, give kids old spoons, measuring cups, and plastic tubs for tools. The tactile and physically demanding experience of digging in the dirt will expend pent-up energy and inspire creativity.
  • As spring progresses, create some Wild Outside by leaving part of your yard unmown. This will be a great area for exploring as plants (yes maybe even weeds!) grow taller. Give kids jars for bug catching and take photos of what they find. For some fun citizen science, download the free app and join a huge community photo-documenting biodiversity worldwide.
  • Gardening can also be kid-friendly, especially if you relax your standards. Offer kids basic guidance for success, like providing easy-to-grow nasturtium or sunflower seeds but let them take charge of their space. Give scrap wood and paint (or plastic lids and sharpies) to make signs, plus rocks for borders, as well as license to simply build fairy houses if it makes them happy.
  • Beyond the yard (or if you don’t have one), spend time exploring, observing, and amusing yourselves in nearby “natural playgrounds” (as developed ones are closed) – from back alleys to neighborhood nature parks. (Please see *note at the end of this article regarding COVID-19 health and safety recommendations.)
  • Try Nature’s Classroom. Start with a five-senses scavenger hunt. Use a checklist rather than gathering and find something in every color of the rainbow, something that smells nice, something soft, something that sings, and something that tastes good when ripe – plus add your own sensory ideas. Or try different hunt themes – hidden bugs, natural things starting with A-Z, animal homes, nature finds in groups of 1-10. (It’s easy to add academics to the mix too!)
  • Make forward progress through a park (or even just around the block) by having an Unnatural Hike. Send an adult ahead to hide a small object like a plastic animal or a marble for kids to seek. Using a variety of different-colored objects can inspire a conversation about camouflage, as well as subsequent exploration for hidden bugs and birds in habitats nearby.
  • Find an Outside Room where you can simply sit and listen – to nature, to storybooks, to tales told. Choose somewhere you can visit over and over again. We’re all going to need down time in the coming days, away from news and free from power-struggles with frustrated children too long separated from friends and routines. This can be your special space.

Nearby Nature is developing a variety of resources and ideas for home-instruction, like the ones mentioned above, to help support families and teachers during this challenging time. Please see from more information.

Finally, remember, nature’s web of life is incredibly resilient. We too, are part of that web of life. So stay strong, stay safe, and stay sane!

*Note: With COVID-19 health and safety recommendations in constant flux, please take into account any changes in local, state, or national policies that might impact activities suggested in this article, especially with respect to social distancing, spending time outside, or visiting public parks and natural areas.

—Beth Stein is the Executive Director of Nearby Nature, a non-profit education group dedicated to fostering appreciation of nature nearby and providing tools for ecological living. The organization hosts summer daycamps in local parks as well as school programs, special events, and restoration projects. For more information, call 541-687-9699 or see