Here is an activity that I love!  It’s never too early to start developing the love of reading and by making it special and fun, you will spark your budding reader’s interest and have an “outside the box” experience that you will all remember fondly.  And where is it that you can do some unbridled learning, free to explore new concepts and try new skills:  outdoors of course!  

So make up your own camp read, even if your children don’t yet know how to read. They will understand how much fun it is to read stories with you, to look at the pictures and become emergent readers and later be readers in their own right and disappear into an imaginary world...

So camp read consists of setting up a “camp” so to speak.  So get out your camping gear or set up your home made tent right in your backyard, your balcony or even the park!  I used to use old outdoor long chairs on their sides, with old sheets to create myself a little tent outdoors.  Oh how much fun that was.  Now take that one step further and set up camp read with your child. Bring in sleeping bags, pillows and a stuffy to keep you all company and then kick back and read!  It’s the time you put in, the importance you give reading and the free setting that will set the stage.  Enjoy every moment as much as your kids do and don’t forget to break for snack!  

Going to camp read will be one of those things kids look forward to every year and look back on fondly when they are older....

Hiking with all ages of children is an adventure. You just have to pick an opportunity that will be fun and achievable for the whole family. 
We often find that the expectations our chidren have for the hike are very different compared to that of mine and my husbands. We are happy to be outdoors in the fresh air getting some exercise in some beautiful scenery whilst the boys tend to be more inclined to directly engage and spend more time at the different locations that they are passing through.
So with our family experience of walking many shorter trails as well as hikes that have taken a few days and involved camping overnight here are our top tips to building enthusiasm in your children for hiking the big outdoors!

  • When planning your walk, get children involved in planning the route - use a map and take the map with you to follow along with.
  • Will you take a circular route or an ‘out and back’? It can be more satisfying to find your way back to where you started without having to retrace your steps. Or that could be the adventure….leaving markers at strategic points to rediscover on your return journey!
  • Take along snacks and chocolate! A little chocolate can go along way to boosting spirits if children (or adults!) begin to flag!
  • Be mindful of the weather forecast and dress appropriately. Light weight rain jackets tucked away in a backpack have made unexpected appearances more than once in our adventures!
  • Don’t set yourselves too challenging a distance or terrain - you want to build a positive experience that will encourage the next hike. After all just being outside together and enjoying the adventure is the main thing.
  • Take along a pair of binoculars or a camera. They can be an extra actvity and a new distraction.
  • Why not have a reward in mind for the end of the hike. We sometimes finish a walk with a visit to favourite local eaterie for brunch or afternon tea.
  • Be flexible - be prepared for the all the wonders that grab the childrens attention…. wanting to stop to float sticks down a stream, climb a boulder at the side of the trail, a roll down a grassy slope. Hiking is rich in unexpected experiences.
Create a positive experience that can be used to motivate everyone to get outdoors for your next family hike!
My sons love making forts.

They have built them up trees, in the woods, added to and improved old forts made by others before them, and have even built them for their stuffed monkeys!
There is always deliberation over the type of material to use, sticks and branches, ferns, leaves, mosses and driftwood. There is always the detail…. the ‘carpeting’ and the ‘furniture’.

And if the choice of location and scale is always changing what is constant is the use of their imagination and creativity…. how to best use the natural materials available around them.
In fact den building and the creative play it illustrates employs a whole range of skills and competencies.
The boys imagination is always front and centre as the forts take shape accompanied by games of secret agents, medieval knights and pirates.

But what about some of the other benefits of such creative play….

The boys use their skills of problem solving  working with sticks, ferns, leaves, rocks and other natural materials. They judge the length and strength of the sticks they need for framing, they test ways to secure the walls and the roof.

Collaboration allows the boys to lift and position materials that would be difficult to manoeuvre on their own. 

Sharing their ideas results in forts that keep out the rain and are well positioned for ambushing unsuspecting passers by!

Their persistence and determination keeps them busy for ages until the roof is secure and enough grass has been collected to make that carpet.

They are outdoors, actively engaged with their natural environment and each other.

And having so much FUN!!

Aaaaahhh, the first year with baby.  You know that getting outside would do you a world of good but:

   1.  By the time you get your act together, it will be nap time again
   2.  You really should vacuum today
   3.  You really should take a shower today!
   4.  You really should exercise today
   5.  You are too tired

...and the list goes on and on...

Luckily, sometimes all it takes to conquer all the excuses for not going outside with baby is to look at the issue differently.  What if every day was a new learning and bonding opportunity?  What if you were setting the stage for a lifelong learner, a happy, healthy, motivated child?  

...Well then, if you put it like that...  Let’s get the baby carrier out!

It’s a easy as getting into a routine of getting out everyday, no matter where you are.  Look around for something to show baby:

  • A leaf: let her feel it, smell it and let it fly away
  • The tree bark:  is it smooth or rough, wet or dry?
  • The wind:  is it blustery or very calm today?
  • The birds:  what color are they, what sounds to they make?
  • The snow:  let her feel the cold and notice the flakes
  • The grass:  let her dig her feet into it
  • The rain: jump in the puddles while carrying her, let her stick her hand out
...You get the idea.  Talk to her all the while as she will learn rhythm and cadence and help her develop language.  If you want to take it up a notch, once she is facing outwards in her baby carrier, try showing her baby sign language so you can start communicating together.  Point up to the sun and say:  “SUN”.  Now show her the sign language with your hands right in front of her since you are both facing the same way.  If you click here you will find short videos of how to sign easy nature words for your baby.

Katharine and I can’t tell you how happy we are to be Nature Rocks Ambassadors and have the opportunity to engage with you this week. 

Our aim for the week at Naturebag Eco-Activities will be not only to give you fun ideas to get outside with your kids but to plant the seeds (no pun intended) and get you thinking about building your children’s intrinsic motivation, ie autonomy, mastery and purpose, giving them strong personal tools to grow up and flourish in our ever changing world.  Doing all of this outdoors is just smart, everyone being able to breathe deeply and immerse themselves in fun, intuitive learning.

So...  Why build children’s intrinsic motivation?  

Because our kids will need new tools to thrive in an ever changing world.  Just look at the changes universities are going through right now.  You can now get all sorts of university courses for free through itunes.  MIT will have it’s full course load available over the internet by this fall.  How cool is this?  How lucky are we to live in an age where anyone can learn anything that interests them?  But wait!  Our kids will need to know what interests them in the first place AND have the intrinsic motivation to do the higher learning required.  They will need to have those personal tools that going outside and collaborate in building a fort for example will teach them.  They will build their autonomy and social skills, be proud of themselves, learn by failing and trying again, find what they are good at, build gross and fine motor skills, measure, count, create and do it all because it matters to them.  In the end, they have not only built a fort but acquired skills that will serve them throughout their lives. 

So when does one start?  What is the right age?  

Answer:  Right now.  

Hopefully we’ve got you motivated.  Even in your child is a tiny baby, taking her outdoors will start the healthy connection between yourselves and nature.  Check out our baby activities  and start feeling better right now.  For the rest of this week, we will offer you activities you can do with your kids that build different skill sets.  

Here’s to creative motivated children with bright futures!

"This is really fun!", said my 11 year old son, as the two of us tried out a new outdoor activity yesterday - disc golf!
We have an 18 hole disc golf course in a wooded park here on Salt Spring Island and with an hour to spare before Cameron's bass lesson we headed into the trees!
The park, Mouats Regional Park, is a quiet, reflective place, providing a relaxing break amongst its beautiful trees, streams and enormous ferns. It is often used by the local schools as a resource for nature art, haiku writing, creek stewardship and natural play. Its 23 hectares includes numerous short hiking trails and a picturesque course for Disc Golf. 

The targets are 18 tone poles hanging from trees with one chain basket waiting for you at the end of the course. The game is played much like traditional golf except that players use golf discs instead which are like frisbees but slimmer. You aim not at greens and holes but at targets hanging from the trees  or metal baskets and the great thing is is the game can be played by all ages. A great family activity!

So there we were, outdoors in a forest, playing disc golf and exchanging comments about how to improve our technique and how to navigate around the many obstacles. But we also couldn’t help ourselves relating to the nature around us…..noticing the buds on the bushes, observing a sleepy bee, we had conversations about the amount of water running through the streams and the disturbance around rotten trunks as a result of a feasting piliated woodpeckers. Our agility and balance were tested too as we clambered over fallen trees, forded streams and tried to avoid getting caught up in the bramble bushes! And we did have loads of fun! 

So why don't you check to see if there is a disc golf course near you. Apparently it is played in 40 countries around the world and has its own professional association! 
We will be heading out with our discs again tomorrow...