There’s no excuse to rely on screens for entertaining kids this summer. Opportunities abound to learn, grow and reconnect with nature, according to local experts.
Vyju Kadambi, director of Southwest Montessori Academy Fort Wayne, has no shortage of ideas for different age groups. She says summer is “ a time for connections and time to share passions.”
In fact Kadambi offers a simple rule of thumb to those parents who might feel overwhelmed about where to start: “Share with them what you’re passionate about. They will remember the connections (made).”
Teachable Moments + Fun Times
It’s a good idea to start with age-appropriate activities and advance in difficulty as needed. For toddlers she often recommends toilet teaching in the summer because schedules generally aren’t as hectic and there are fewer clothes to get in the way. Also, Kadambi says summer is a good time to focus on language development. With the new season comes an opportunity to incorporate relevant vocabulary.
Along with language skills, motor system development can be a focus. She suggests buying real, child-sized tools to encourage children to dig in the garden. This is a great way to feed curiosity while building skills.
Other outside activities can include playing in the sand, bug catching, bike riding, water activities, a trip to Fox Island and the zoo. The latter are great options Kadambi says because they foster a love of science. There is also the opportunity to reconnect as a family without the daily noise of electronics to get in the way.
Regardless of the chosen activity, Kadambi says it provides an opportunity for a teachable moment. For example, going for a walk is part of a healthy lifestyle. When adults make exercise a priority, their children will take note. “Children don’t do what you tell them to do; they do what you do,” she said.
Speaking of unplugging, ACRES Land Trust extends an open invitation to families looking to discover or rediscover the beauty of the natural world. ACRES has acquired and preserves 90 properties in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan. The properties can be accessed free of charge by the public.
Lettie Haver, who handles outreach for ACRES, says parents should make time spent in nature a priority this summer (and year-round). “You can experience resistance, but we need to get back to our senses and reconnect with nature,” she said.
Haver, a mother of two girls, says she has reaped the benefits of making nature and exploration a priority in her own life. Just by taking a few hours on the trails it can reset her family for the rest of the weekend. For example, she has observed the girls are more autonomous and willing “to fulfill their own destiny.”
Although she’s a big proponent for ACRES in her personal life, she is quick to point out that a nature preserve isn’t the end-all be-all way to experience nature. For example, she cites the local park system as a great resource.
Also, she reminds parents that they need not be nature experts. “You don’t have to know every (bird) call, or every species,” she said.
Any effort to connect with nature is better than staying inside. Nature can create or strengthen family bonds like nothing else.