From the perspective of our kiddos, the holidays as many of us celebrate them are heavily focused on receiving gifts. Once the excitement of opening presents begins to wind down, we can offer kids a chance to get some fresh air outside and shift their focus from acquiring treasure to appreciating the treasures that nature provides us. As kids think about how to share the joy of the holidays with our nature friends, they’ll experience a lasting lesson in empathy and giving.
Reflect on gift giving: If your family exchanges gifts for the holidays, reflect together on how it feels to receive a gift. Wonder together who in nature might appreciate a gift. How might you show your gratitude for the animals, plants, trees and outdoor spaces in which you play? Welcome kids to share their ideas and offer support in gathering materials to create a special gift for nature friends. Or, try out some of these ways to offer a gift to nature:
A treat for bird friends: Tie some yarn or string to the top of a pine cone, spread on some nut butter and roll it in seeds to create a special holiday treat for feathered friends.Or, repurpose an orange to use as a bird feeder. Go for a walk together and let kids decide where to hang their gift for the birds.
Present for the earth: Head outside with a bucket or bindle and collect some nature treasures together. Take a moment to use all your senses to explore the treasures and share what you love most about them. Wonder how you could use the treasures to create a gift for the earth. Use dirt or snow to make a nature cake. Make a nature sculpture or offer glue or tape to attach treasures together. Once kids have made their nature present, offer a piece of twine to make a ribbon for the gift and invite kids to present it to a special tree, plant or other favorite area of your outdoor space.
Decorate a tree: Bring the festive holiday decorating outdoors by using fruit pods, leaves, pine cones or other treasures and some twine to make ornaments for the trees in your outdoor space. Or, use tape and nature treasures to dress up a favorite tree for the holidays. Read more about this activity here.
Promises to the earth: Perhaps the best holiday gift we can give to nature is our commitment to doing our part to care for it all season long. Talk with kids about how your family might be able to care for the earth this winter and use this template to write down a few promises to our planet. If you are celebrating the holiday with friends and/or family, pass around some cards and invite them to make promises to the natural world, too. Share your promises with nature by using twine to hang them from a special tree in your outdoor space or pick a spot to display them on a nature curtain.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Slowing down and encouraging kids to think with you about what would make nature friends happy teaches kids powerful lessons in empathy. Taking time to do something special and symbolic together like giving a gift to nature also helps kids get hooked on giving, make personal connections to the natural world, and reinforces family values and the importance of connecting and sharing with one another.
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Sample the additional activities and resources families get each week to keep kids learning outside at home.
By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is Imagination?
Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!