Encourage the kids to have a complete digital detox with this idea of going on ‘safari’ in any green outdoorsy space to look for critters and small animals
When my eldest was about five years old, he loved to play ‘going on safari’. He’d pack his little backpack with his binoculars, a water bottle, some snacks, a wildlife book, and a self-drawn map. Pulling his little sisters along, he’d wave goodbye. “Mama, we are going on a safari.” he would say, and off he went to discover our backyard garden.
When they came back they regaled me excitedly about their encounters with mostly squirrels, and myna birds, a caterpillar that we would keep and house until it turned into a butterfly, a snail, or bright yellow bird. The backpack would be turned upside-down to yield its treasures: pretty seed pods, sticks (for the pretend campfire), shiny stones, an abandoned birds nest.
We all know our kids spend too much time inside, and behind screens. Chasing them outdoors to catch butterflies, make mud pies, or dig up worms, is about more than plain fun; to experience new smells, sounds, textures, sights, and terrains, has shown to promote brain development.
But between homework, after-school-activities, and sports, who has time to travel to the great outdoors? The thing is, often people don’t see the trees, because they are looking for the forest. Nature is not something far away and inaccessible, it is everywhere, even in the urban jungle of Singapore. It does not need planning, time and hassle to get to. In fact, the less preparation, the more of an adventure: unstructured playtime outside is the best way for children to learn. So let them lead.
There are myriads of green patches in Singapore, and the smaller they are, all the better to get up close with whatever lives there. Try to seek out natural, uncultivated spaces in your area to visit regularly. A roadside patch of trees, a stretch of grass next to a sports field, or shrubbery around a storm drain is great, but for the youngest even a planted area in a condo can be teeming with tiny wildlife to observe and explore.
If you go out exploring with your kids, try to activate all their senses: point out things for them to touch, see, smell, hear, even taste where possible. Ask them questions to force them to think, rather than try to explain what you see. There are many ways to encourage kids to become more observant. For little ones, make it into a game. Who can spot the very first squirrel? How many different colours of birds can we see? Can we try to find ten leaves with different shapes?
Inspire your children’s curiosity by being curious yourself: Let’s lift up that stone to see what hides underneath. Shall we follow this trail of ants to see where they live? Children love collecting items, and bringing back home treasures will prolong the experience. A vase of leaves, a basket of stones, pine cones, or for the more daring ones, a glass container with insects. This will allow you to revisit the experience and enjoy it for days to come.
Remember: exciting discoveries can’t always be planned, and nature cannot be rushed, so let go of control and be patient. Going out and about regularly will increase your chances of finding that special something, as well as allow you to see things change and grow. Sit down, or walk slowly. Nature will lead if you follow its clues.
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