by Terry Lin

As we collectively learn to navigate this new normal, I want to share some of the activities we’ve been trying at home with my daughter, Piper (age 5). Nature walks, gardening, snail mail — these experiences not only fill the hours, but they offer a new perspective and learning opportunities for my daughter and me.  

With all of this extra time around the house, why not get creative with the everyday resources in your backyard?

Plant and flower art

Get closer! Helping kids draw exactly what they see brings up details they may not typically notice.

Now, more than ever, I’m looking for activities and routines that get Piper excited about getting outside. The tablet and TV are distractions that are easy to turn to, but are they the best choices? I’m trying my hardest to make sure that Piper doesn’t catch Nature Deficit Disorder.

Encouraging kids to paint and draw what they see in their backyard hones their observation and fine motor skills (it’s ideal for kids grades K-2).

P.S. I have to admit that most five-year-olds’ attention spans are about 15 minutes, so be prepared to go with the flow. While she was drawing, Piper wandered to overturn rocks in search of bugs. She found an earthworm and some roly polys. Instead of getting her to refocus on the plants, I asked her to draw the bugs that she found.  

Backyard botany lessons

Since we’ve been ‘sheltering at home,’ we’ve had some Backyard Botany lessons. I was pleasantly surprised when, on one of our daily scoots around the block, Piper suddenly blurted out, “Crassula Perforata!” Our sessions were sticking with her!

Planted and potted alike, backyard plants provide great learning opportunities.

Over the last week, we learned that our garden has many different varieties of Aeoniums. We have Aeonium Cyclops, Garnets, and Zwartkop. We also found we have other varieties of the Crassula succulents; in addition to the Perforata, we have Ripple Jade and Ovatas too.

To make learning more fun, I’ve been taking clippings of our plants and having Piper draw them. She keeps them in a notebook and shares it with her classmates on our daily Zoom calls, during which they read stories and virtually show and tell.

Nature writing

I've mentioned a term called Nature Deficit Disorder before. The concept is that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors. We are often time-starved and pulled in so many directions that we’re desensitized to what’s outside the walls of our home.

Ask kids: what colors and shapes do you see? It helps hone their observational skills.

With this unexpected gift of time, why not start a nature journal with your child? Take a walk around the block and engage the five senses. Remind kids how we use all five to visualize the stories we read and write. Have them record what they see, hear, touch, smell, and (if you know what kind of plant you’re interacting with) taste. Piper tasted the Oxalis that grow wild near our house — she calls it “sour grass” — as well as the salvia flowers that we’re growing to attract butterflies.  

For my kindergartner, the journal is fairly simple, but it can easily be adapted to your child’s age and grade level.

Grow a vegetable garden (and get kids to eat veggies!)

When kids grow their own food, they appreciate eating it that much more.

This is the PERFECT time to start a vegetable garden! Continue to build on Backyard Botany and learn which fruits and vegetables thrive in your region. We are still working on getting Piper to eat her vegetables. Growing veggies herself gives her a sense of responsibility and appreciation that goes far beyond simply purchasing them at the supermarket.

The art of letter writing

(An activity for outdoors OR indoors)

Piper loved giving some snail mail her personal touch.

With the government mandate for social distancing, my normal weekly routines have gone out the window. Our Sunday dinners with Emily’s family are on pause indefinitely. This made me think about something that has almost become obsolete: writing letters.  

I wonder if there will be a resurgence of value for things with a personal touch. Most of our interactions are digital, but a handwritten letter is uniquely you.

As a school project, Piper has been working on writing letters to the people she loves. It was a great way for her to practice her lettering, spelling, and art. What a nice treat for her to send letters in lieu of seeing them on FaceTime.

I recognize how tough it is to make adjustments at home, juggling childcare and work, figuring out new schedules, and wondering for how long supporting school-at-home will be our new reality.

The good news is, we’re not alone. I’d love to hear the ideas, activities, and small victories that are getting you through this new day-to-day reality. It takes a village!

Remember to get outside and get some fresh air — it’s good for our mind, body, and kiddos!