No backyard? Try bringing the outside in

Physical distancing has pressed the pause button on much of our outdoor play. Playgrounds are cordoned off, many nature parks have been closed, and not everyone has access to private green spaces. For many apartment residents who rely exclusively on public park space, this isolation from nature is creating even more anxiety and unease.

Despite the current restrictions, our relationship with the natural world doesn’t have to come to a complete stop just because we can’t dip our toes in a stream, collect pinecones, or picnic in a nearby park.

If your only outdoor space at the moment is a balcony or concrete patio, you can still access nature and its healing powers by bringing it indoors through crafts, gardening, books, and online resources.

Active for Life has put together fun and simple nature-themed ways for children to stay curious about the natural world, while keeping safe inside. 

Try gardening indoors

The tactile nature of working on an indoor veggie or flower garden is a healthy and therapeutic way to escape the stress going on around us.

Grow veggies from scraps
Though we compost religiously, it’s never occurred to me to try planting our food scraps! Many types of produce can easily be re-grown from the scraps you’d usually toss in the bin.

Since we’re limiting our trips to the grocery store, it seems like the perfect time to try re-growing our own celery, strawberries, and green onions inside. It’s a delicious way to spark curiosity in kids about plants and their parts

Use your windowsill
Try container gardening in a sunny window or on a kitchen table. Kids will love taking care of their little seedlings and will learn patience and responsibility. Eventually, their plants can be brought outside to beautify a balcony. This cute pizza garden is a fun way to introduce different herbs to your kids.

You don’t need fancy pots; I like to use plastic lettuce containers (they make a great mini-greenhouse), or even coffee cups or yogurt containers. Paint or wrap in wool and you’ve also made it into a craft project.

Make some nature art

Nature crafts and art projects can introduce young children to various fauna and flora, are great sensory activities, and develop fine motor skills. Here are a few ideas:

Build a colourful bird nest
I love the calming words in this nest building tutorial from Marghanita Hughes. Children can do this craft on their own or with help and then learn about feathers or listen to bird songs.

Make butterfly crafts
You only need different pastas, glue, markers, and a printout to do this educational craft about butterflies, and if you want to attract butterflies to your balcony or patio, use pieces saved from the recycling bin to make this cute butterfly feeder.

Create fruit and veggie prints
Who knew the vegetable drawer could create such beautiful art? Use various veggies and fruits to make cards, wrapping paper, or art to hang in the window. Celery butts make beautiful roses!

Construct a bird feeder
Grab a small bag of bird seed next time you visit the grocery store, as there are tons of ways that you can create a feeder for neighbourhood birds. I especially love the LEGO and bottle/spoon versions in this great list. Or try this cookie cutter craft to make decorative seed shapes.


Related read: 10 nature activities you can do with kids (while social distancing)


Learn about nature at home

Even if your family isn’t homeschooling at this time, learning about nature together can be a fun way to pass the time.

Play nature-themed indoor games
You don’t even need to leave the house or apartment for this mineral scavenger hunt that will get kids exercising as they search, and learning about science at the same time! Or try a window nature bingo [PDF] and notice all the natural elements all around. 

Try a food investigation
Find a favourite family recipe and find out what herbs and spices it contains. On a map, look up where they’re grown. What country/continent are they in? What is the climate like? Can you grow the same spices at home?

Design an invention to protect our oceans
The Little Inventors challenge from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada invites Canadian children ages five to 15 to think up and draw invention ideas to protect our oceans. Three free resource packs include a PowerPoint presentation, student activity sheets, and a resource guide.

Explore nature notes
These four-page resources from Ontario Nature cover a wide range of environmental topics and are geared to kids ages 10 to 12. Spiders and caribou and foxes, oh my!

Indoor camping and “beach” days

Break up the routine by pitching a tent in the living room, putting on your cozy PJs, and climbing into a nest of yoga mats, pillows, and sleeping bags.

You can do all the usual camping stuff like making shadow puppets on the tent wall (don’t forget the flashlights!), playing board games and cards, sitting around a “campfire,” and making hot dogs and indoor s’mores to eat picnic-style.

While we wait for the all-clear to be able to visit playgrounds and beaches, recreate the beach at home with this recipe for reusable “sand.” Small buckets and scoops, plus a mini pool or large container, will keep everything contained, but I still suggest putting down a large sheet underneath!

Online resources and apps

Here are some more resources for nature-themed activities you can do with kids at home.

National Geographic: National Geographic has compiled collections of learn-at-home activities about science, animal habitats, geography, biology, and more, curated for K–12 learners. National Geographic Kids is also full of interesting facts, games, and quizzes that are fun for all ages.

Canadian Wildlife Federation: See some of Canada’s iconic species in the Hinterland Who’s Who videos, or visit The Wild Gang webpage or app where kids can learn about Canadian wildlife through games, quizzes, and activities.

The Nature Conservancy: Elementary and high school students can learn about tomatoes, dirt, coral reefs, rainforests, and much more with virtual field trips, lessons, and videos from the Nature Conservancy’s Nature Lab.

NASA: NASA’s Climate Kids brings climate science to life with games, interactive features, articles, and activities that can be done in-home.

Earth Rangers: Earth Rangers is supporting families with free educational and environmental content and activities. Sign up to receive its Daily Eco-Activity.

Photos courtesy of Christine Latreille.

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