Like so many people around the world right now, our family is re-evaluating our regular activities and making sure that what we’re doing during this ever-evolving situation is safe for ourselves and everyone in our community.
While schools, public recreation facilities, and playgrounds are no longer options, health experts currently agree that the outdoors is one of the few locations that remains a good place to engage in physical activity and reduce stress.
According to the Government of Canada website about COVID-19, the list of things you can do at this time (if you’re not in self-isolation) includes going outside for a run, a bike ride, or to walk the dog—so long as you make sure you stay at least two metres from people who don’t live with you.
That’s good news for us and many families.
With our already tiny house seeming to get smaller and more cramped each day, we’re trying to go outside as often as we can—while practicing social/physical distancing, strict hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette—and have been visiting nearby green spaces and nature trails for hiking and exploration.
Besides bringing back a sense of normalcy to this uncertain time, being outside and in the woods has a slew of physical and mental health benefits, including:
- nurturing a connection with the environment
- helping meet recommended movement guidelines
- enhanced physical literacy skills like balance and coordination
- decreased blood pressure and risk of certain diseases
- a stronger immune system
- improved attention spans
- vitamin D, which protects children from a variety of health issues
- and important right now—reduced stress and anxiety—by as much as 28% in children
“It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is imposing undue stress in the daily lives of Canadians. Physical activity/exercise is regarded as an important self-management strategy for individuals feeling mental stress.”
-Health Canada Media Relations
If you’re heading out to enjoy fresh air and nature, here are some tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:
- Check the status of regional/provincial parks and Parks Canada. While some parks remain open to non-vehicular traffic, washrooms, picnic areas, and visitor centres are mostly closed. Some municipalities have also blocked access to popular parks to discourage people from gathering at this time, and to prevent children from playing on equipment (in case the virus can be spread by touching play structures used by an infected person).
- Visit at non-peak times (early morning) and look for less crowded parks. If it’s too crowded, be prepared to head home or find another location.
- Dress for the weather.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks. When you think you’ve packed enough, add more!
- Take appropriate safety precautions. While our health system is under strain, it’s not the best time to practice higher-risk activities like climbing to the tops of trees or going off-trail.
- Keep it safe and fun!
Related read: “Window walks” and other ways to jazz up your neighbourhood stroll
10 nature activities you can do with kids
Because our family has been spending a lot of time exploring the forest and trails near our home, we’re trying different activities each time to change up our experience. Here are some of the things we do:
1. Play a nature game
Try Active for Life’s list of homemade hiking games that will keep little ones entertained and engaged.
2. Keep a plant journal
Susan J. Tweit, plant biologist and author of Walking Nature Home, offers this suggestion: “Get to know a tree or shrub in your neighborhood intimately by observing it over the course of a growing season. Every week, check your adopted tree or shrub and note any changes.”
3. Go on a moon walk
Visiting one of your regular outdoor spaces in the moonlight will create a whole new experience. Look for Lightning bugs, hooting owls, or swooping bats!
4. Be a photographer
Bring along a camera or phone to take photos of wildlife, then post to iNaturalist.ca to add to Canada’s growing database of biodiversity. You can share what you see in nature, meet other nature watchers, and learn about Canada’s wildlife.
5. Practice orienteering skills
6. Bring a nature gear bag
My son received a backpack similar to this one when he turned seven this year, and since then it’s come along with us on all our adventures. The “bug collector” jar is perfect for keeping treasures like leaves and small stones, and then they don’t all end up in my pockets!
7. Engage your senses
Ever wondered who was making that twittering noise? With this webpage you can identify some common birds by the sounds they make. Though there are no guarantees that you’ll hear a penguin in the woods!
8. Walkie talkies
We already had a set of walkie talkies at home, and they’ve made our nature walks quite the adventure as the boys hide behind logs and make secret “kid-only” plans. If you’re looking to buy some, check out this roundup of great sets for kids.
9. Pick up supplies for a DIY insect house
First, make sure that you’re allowed to take away pine cones, bark, or twigs from your location. If yes, bring them home to make a sanctuary for beneficial bugs.
10. Go plogging
As the winter snow melts, not just grass is being uncovered. Bring along a pair of gloves and garbage bags to pick up litter along the trail.
Have you tried any of these ideas, or have a suggestion for parents and kids to try? Let us know in the comments!
When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”
Compass photo courtesy of Christine Latreille.