Keeping the Kids Engaged with Nature When Outdoor Play is Problematic
The time of year in between Christmas break and spring break can be a pretty dreary time for us. Not only do we typically have no travel plans this time of year, but the weather here in central Mississippi is cold, dreary, and gray. The kids are inside so much that it is tempting to just let Nanny Television take over and drown out their bickering and frustrations. Or, I could do something better, and help my kids continue to engage with nature and with learning without the use of screens and electronic devices.
We have definitely outgrown our home. Going from two to six people without adding any square feet has caused us to get creative with how we use our space. Further, given that our oldest son (10 years old) needs his own space, our former dining room went from dining room to play room to his room, causing us to further rearrange other areas in our home.
While the kids all have their own toys in their own rooms (the girls are still sharing a room), we have created a share space for them to use in a corner of our dining room. We refer to the area as simply “the craft table,” but it encompasses everything within this nook: table and chairs, books, art supplies (from pencils and crayons to watercolor sets and paper), a globe, office supplies (such as pencil sharpeners, tape dispensers, scissors, and glue sticks), and four dry erase boards with markers. They all treasure this space and while it is their space it is still within a common living area of the home, and one that visitors can’t miss when they come over, so the kids are responsible for keeping it tidy. One of the most asked questions asked is, “is the craft table clean?” This does not mean “shove all the papers into the bookcase,” but that everything has to be tidy. Tidiness is a work in progress in our home, but they do understand the importance of this shared space.
Recently, I decided to include a science station next to the craft table. This was most likely prompted by the fact that I was tired of the microscope hanging out in the kitchen coupled with the fact that I was tired of putting it up in the closet, just to haul it back out the next day to answer the next question the kids have.
So, one day while they were at school, I set up the microscope and filled a tray with found objects that we had laying around the house, in our curiosity cabinet, and things that were stored along with the microscope. These things don’t belong in a closet! They belong out on a shelf, accessible and available to my kids at all times. I also displayed other objects, such as a turtle shell and a littler closed terrarium next to our lamp filled with shells from Sanibel Island.
I set everything up, and it was like Christmas morning telling the kids that this is where the microscope now lives—where they can all reach it and use it whenever they want. Even my five year old daughters know how to use the microscope, and they all understand that the accessories that go along with the microscope (glass slides, tweezers, pins) are tools and that these tools can break and can hurt us if we aren’t careful. We have a set of prepared slides, which they enjoy using, but they love making their own slides, or just putting found objects, like feathers and fern fronds, underneath the microscope.
This has been a fantastic way for them to stay engaged with nature during these times when they can’t actually get into nature. I have been surprised at how well they all take care of the science station. I think they’re afraid that I’ll make good on my threat to take it all away it they don’t respect it! But, respect it they do, and I have been very pleased with this maturity they have displayed.
How do you keep your kids engaged when they have to stay indoors? What is the most challenging time of year where you live? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!