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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Staying Close to Nature

by Shikha Das Shankar

Despite the cold, wet April we have gotten so far, spring is a wonderful time to explore nature with the kids in several ways. 

It was the beginning of April, and the light green colored leaves, tiny chirping birds and seasonal allergy-struck households meant that spring was supposed to have arrived. But what had arrived was the spring of deception—a phrase coined with the sole aim to depict the deceit of a month that should have been warmer and brighter. With the spring break around the corner, my plans to spend plenty of time playing outdoors with the kids where going to be dampened by the heavy rains forecast. 

When my son started kindergarten, and his routine started to resemble a 9-5 job, I looked forward to school breaks, as it gave me an opportunity to slow down the pace of life. These breaks were a perfect way to replace morning madness of packing lunches and hustling the kids out of the door to catch the bus with lazy mornings, sipping coffee that was still hot, tackling floor puzzles with them and letting them stay in pajamas till lunch time. There is the frazzling aspect of having kids at home too—snack demand by the hour, bantering and whining around the clock, and the mess! Despite that, finding a way to connect with our children that regular weekdays don’t allow us, and in the process, making lifetime memories becomes the essence of these breaks. Traveling with kids is a preferred way to spend the break for many and for others having house guests. Neither was in our plans and looking at the expected rains in the PNW, I was starting to scratch my head to come up with ideas to keep the kids busy.

The break started with the only sunny day in the entire week and we hopped over to the zoo with friends that day. For the remaining days, indoor playtime—boardgames, puzzles, building and chasing each other formed a large chunk of the kids’ morning but started to wear off by mid-afternoon. Their active minds needed more engagement than their playroom could provide. Keeping nature at the core of it, several simple and fun ideas worked great for us. 

Birdwatching: And hours of it! Three pairs of binoculars, a bird watching book and lots of fingerprints on the bedroom window were evidence to prove us guilty of stalking cute little birds in our backyard. While birdwatching is an extensive outdoor activity, we were lucky to spot the most popular birds of the season, as they frequented the trees surrounding our house, right from our bedroom windows. My toddler enjoyed copying the birds’ melodious chirping while my son was hard at work with the binoculars. I took it a step further with him, and downloaded a very informative backyard bird app, which provides details of hundreds of birds by their names and family group. 

Walk it Out: Unpaved hiking trails, especially ones with elevation, can be risky when there is incessant rain but the paved ones are safe and accessible most of the year. Arboretums and nature preserves usually have paved trails that are perfect for walks with kids, rain or shine. Our local botanical garden, the Washington Park Arboretum, recently opened a 1.2-mile long asphalt loop trail to walkers and cyclists, and we couldn’t be happier. A walk around the neighborhood with the sole purpose of jumping up and down in muddy puddles, Peppa Pig style, worked just as well. Finding the perfect muddy puddle was a daunting task, one that should not be sidetracked by thoughts of muddy mess that was to ensue in my house—a mental note I made to myself while on this excursion. 

Nature Journal: Have a budding Thoreau in your house? Do you find pebbles, rocks, dried leaves and flowers making their way into your living room after every outdoor activity? Maintaining a nature journal is an engaging way to encourage your child to continue his enthusiasm for nature. It can be as simple as the child drawing his observation on sheets of paper, and over the course of time, stapling them together to make a nature book. For older kids, going the full mile by investing in a hardbound or paperback journal, log book, magnifying glass amongst other things will help them document their findings, develop writing skills, and grow interest in nature. Another easy way is to store findings from nature in zip pouches, and including a note written by the child about the item in the pouch.

Planters: Planting to make your entry-way look appealing or simply planting a few herbs for your kitchen garden, this spring time activity never fails. Kids can have a great deal of ownership while involved in this fun activity by letting them decide on the planters, helping you lift the bags of soil into the cart and choosing the plants they want to grow. 

Documentary: There is plenty of nature and wildlife related documentary series on popular streaming channels, and all of them comprise quality screen time. Currently, we are hooked onto The Planet Earth and The Blue Planet series on Netflix that cover nature and wildlife extensively. David Attenborough’s resonating voice and the stunning visuals will keep everyone glued to their seats. 

Spring seems to be finally here with the weather looking better. Schools are working to wrap up another academic year, and families are planning summer trips, enrolling children in summer camps and many even taking out time for spring-cleaning. Whatever your spring goals are, the best part of the season is the happiness it brings in knowing that summer in just around the corner. Happy Spring!

Shikha Das Shankar
Storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, Shikha is seen scaling heights, literally, with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband—around the hills of beautiful Seattle suburb or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen. 

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