Spring Nature Play
Like so many mothers of young children, I’m trying to slow down time. Just enough to appreciate those everyday moments of pure wonder: the warmth of a small hand pressing into mine on a crisp day, the slant of sunlight that transforms golden curls into a crown of light, the tinkle of little-girl giggles escaping from under an impromptu blanket fort. As the pace of our family life quickens, I find more and more solace in simple, nature-centered activities with my children, where we’re reminded to slow down and be in the now.
Spring allows for many opportunities to step out of the day-to-day rush and into the peace of our own backyards. The birds are out, the sun is shining, new green life is abundant and flowers are bursting onto the scene. After the long rest and inner work of winter… it is finally time to play!
One of our favorite backyard nature activities is birdwatching. I keep our gear together in a basket for easy access. This includes binoculars, field guides and books, blank notebooks, sketchbooks and colored pencils. (Visit here for a great birdwatching bag project from the ROTH archives.)
Our house is on a small pond, so we get a lot of water birds. On a typical spring day, we might see a Great Blue Heron, a White Egret and a family of ducks along the coast or in the water. In the trees, we’ll spot a pair of Blue Jays, singing and playing. A Rusty Blackbird gathers grass on the ground. And half a dozen ospreys ride the currents high above us. My children can be impressively quiet and still when birdwatching. They peer through small binoculars, point and whisper, and then sketch their findings. Together we thumb through field guides to identify new-to-us visitors.
Spring is the perfect time to help your neighborhood birds feather their nests. We set up a nesting station with a selection of materials such as colorful wool, yarn and fabric scraps, dried leaves and grass, pine needles and twigs, moss, mud, cotton batting and pet fur. Then, we watch from a window or out-of-sight spot to see what the birds choose to help build their homes.
Another fun way to attract and watch birds in your yard is to set up a bird buffet. Put out several small dishes of bird fare, such as breadcrumbs, sunflower seeds, soaked oats, soft fruit and bacon fat, and then watch what food different birds select. Making bird feeders and bird baths with your kids can also enhance birdwatching in your yard – my gals never tire of announcing what feathered friends are at our feeders or wading in the water. Birdwatching is an exercise in attention, an opportunity for stillness and a chance to observe the beauty in our own backyards.
About a year ago, my oldest daughter took a liking to gardening. For Christmas, she asked for a gardening set from Santa. By spring, she was nurturing a small container garden, a fairy garden and a terrarium garden.
Riding the wave of her enthusiasm, I repurposed my girls’ market stand/sweet shop cart/puppet show theater into a potting bench for the spring. I stocked it with essentials including small watering cans & spray bottles, a child-sized shovel, hoe and spade set, and gloves for little hands. Then I added potting soil, orchid bark, moss, a variety of containers, a selection of seed packets (which can be picked up for about 25 cents each at dollar stores this time of year) and a few very small plants (many were dug up from around our yard.) Set up on our back porch, the potting bench received a lot of playtime and is back for a second season.
My preschooler loves to dip dirt from one container into another and to water and spray the plants and seedlings. My older gal likes planting and designing all kinds of container gardens, which often contain small fairy figures, crystals, shells and even glitter.
Gardening forces children to slow down and pay attention. As they dig in the dirt, they are hands-on with nature. When they plant a seed or small plant, they begin on a journey of patience, responsibility and hope. The simple act of watering imparts mindfulness. And tending to a garden of any size requires love and faith.
I’ll never forget the look of complete amazement and satisfaction on my daughter’s face when her first morning glory bloom appeared, planted from seed and nurtured by small hands into to a magnificent burst of azure!
Neighborhood Nature Walks
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been taking around-the-block nature walks with my children. We do not live in the country, or near any woods; our house is on an ordinary suburban street in a small beach town. But despite location, we never fail to find an abundance of natural treasure.
As we stroll around our suburban neighborhood, we scout for bits of nature that we can add to our collection basket. On a sunny afternoon walk we might find flowers, seed pods, acorns, fallen leaves, a feather, an interesting rock, windborne seeds, worn seashells or a cool stick. After we complete our circle, we sit down on the driveway to examine our loot.
Seed pods are shaken and cracked open to get a look at the insides. Small dried leaves are thrown into the air to make “nature’s confetti” (named by my eldest.) Flowers are placed in a front-yard fairy house. And feathers, shells and stones are gathered to join our seasonal collection on the nature table.
These nature walks are some of my most treasured times with my children (and a favorite of theirs as well.) My eyes, completely focused on a great find, don’t see the houses, the mailboxes or the paved road… they see leaves blowing in the wind, scatterings of acorns, scampering squirrels and curled-up bugs. My eyes see, for a short while, more like a child. And time slows down just long enough to soak it all in.
I know my time with little ones will pass quickly. Like the seeds they lovingly pat into the dirt, they will grow and bloom into greater beings. They will fly from my nest into unknown futures, where I will only be able to watch from a nearby window. And they will journey into their own new worlds, searching the landscape for treasures to fill their souls and call their own. But right now, during this season of youth, I’m content with the simplicity of a slow spring day, spent exploring the wonders of our own backyard. And holding every moment close.
Liz Sniegocki enjoys exploring nature in her Sarasota, Florida backyard with her two daughters, Selby (6) and Sage (3). She blogs about mothering, writing and mindful living at A Natural Nester.