Pumpkin Pounding!

It’s that time of year again. For like 20 years (yes, I am getting old!) I’ve been telling you to do pumpkin pounding!

Here’s what I told you back in 2009. I swear I was 20 at the time. 😉

It’s that time of year again, and few things are as fun as pounding pumpkins.  Gather up some golf tees and a mallet (or a hammer and nails for older kids), and let each child pound the tees into a pumpkin.  Push the tees or nails in a bit to get them started, so the kids don’t have to hold them and risk pounding fingers (you can also hold them in place with a clothespin instead of fingers).  They can do patterns or just pound randomly.  This is a fabulously satisfying sensory integration activity for toddlers to teens.  It’s silly fun! 

And another time…

Poke, pound, pester and pulverize your leftover pumpkins!  Have you tried this yet?  I’ve been telling you to do it for years and it’s such outrageous fun.  Make designs, spell out words, nail pretty leaves in patterns, try pounding different objects in, pull the pegs out and leave cool hole patterns and just pound them… 

Have fun!


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Filed under activities, happy stuff, Silliness

The Troublesome Times Checklist

Over the years, there have been a lot of times when my one of my children has suddenly seemed like a totally different child.  My previously angelic toddler suddenly was aggressive and obstinate, my baby who had slept well at night was suddenly an unhappy night owl, or my normally calm preschooler just seemed miserable and impossible to please. 

After a while, I started to see patterns and there was generally something that was missing or something that was going on to explain the behavior.  Since it could be hard to remember all the little things that contribute to happy, healthy kids when life is overwhelming, I actually put up a post-it note on my fridge for a while as a reminder of questions to ask myself. When my kids became teens, I even found that a modified list often gave me insight into why they sometimes seemed to spontaneously grow horns. 😉

If your child is acting worse than usual lately, whether it’s being especially cranky, clingy, angry, tearful, violent, sad, hyper, argumentative or otherwise off, here’s a checklist of things that might play a part.

Has she/he had enough:

  • Food, especially protein (hungry kids act up!)
  • Exercise (kids NEED physical exertion and sensory activities)
  • Mama/Daddy time (kids will often do anything for our attention, even if it’s negative attention)
  • Sleep (tired kids are cranky kids!)
  • Vitamins/DHA (whether from foods or supplements, these play a part in everything from health to mood to brain function)
  • Stimulation (bored kids will create chaos)

Could she/he be:

  • Teething (this can be very painful for little ones and teeth come in during infancy, toddlerhood and around 5 or 6 years old)
  • Getting sick (some children will get especially cranky one or two days before coming down with an illness)
  • In pain (undiagnosed ear infections and other hidden problems can be terrible on children who don’t have the words to tell parents what’s wrong)
  • Nearing a 6 month or 1 year birthday (for unknown reasons, many young children go through emotional growing pains on a pretty regular schedule at these times)
  • Dealing with something stressful (changes in the family or the child’s routine, stress in other family members, etc. can have a big influence)

Behavior is a way that kids let us know what’s right and what’s wrong in their lives.  If your child’s behavior seems really off, go through the checklist and see if you can find a reason.  You know your family best so you may know some things that should be added to your list, but this gives you a general idea.

Keep in mind that kids don’t just act rotten to drive us crazy and even if we can’t figure out why, they may have a real reason for the crazy-making behavior.  If you can’t find the reason, a little extra love often makes it better anyway.

Note: I wrote this piece for a parenting column I had years ago, and later used the same sort of list with my teens. I have found that this stuff is often true for us grown ups too! 😉

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Make a Simple Terrarium!


Here’s a super simple way to bring a little bit of nature indoors and teach kids a bit about ecosystems.  Make a terrarium out of a jar from the recycling bin (we used a salsa jar) and a bit of moss and tiny plants from a shady area of your yard or nearby natural area.

This project is from the August 2019 issue of Wild Kids Magazine, a free printable nature magazine I put out for kids and their grown ups.

Fiona’s terrarium lived happily on our piano for nearly a year before it had withered enough to consign it to the compost pile and recycling bin.  Don’t forget to mist it occasionally if it seems to be drying out a bit, and it can last much longer.

Have fun!


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50 Ways to Make Today Magical (Coronavirus Edition)

Hello, magical people!  I know that many of us will be at home with our kiddos for quite a long time with the Coronavirus quarantines around the world and I thought a list of ways to make the day magical might help.  I have a master list of 100 ways to make today magical, but some of those are decidedly out right now (like visiting museums, throwing fairy parties, and probably that one about using toilet paper for fun!).

So I’ve compiled some of my favorite ways to make the day magical from over the years in a list of 50 ways to make a little magic (at home) with the kids right now.

50 Ways to Make Today Magical (at home)

1. Make pillow and blanket forts — pillow forts from the couch cushions, table forts with sheets, a clothesline fort in the back yard, or even giant forts with lengths of rope strung across the room and blankets draped over them.

2. Look through old family photos and videos.  Talk to the kids about what they were like when they were little, or what your own childhood was like.  Cuddle up, tell stories, and talk about happy memories.

3.  Watch a free streaming concert together.  MSN has All the Live Streams & Virtual Concerts to Watch During Coronavirus Crisis, which is being updated often.

4.  Teach your child how to make a favorite recipe.  Even little kids can learn to make simple things like sandwiches, and big kids love to learn how to cook fancier dishes.

5.  Print out some free toys!  Made by Joel offers free printables of everything from a Travel Size Paper City Paris Champs Elysees and Champ de Mars to paper slotted animals to an oscillating bird and more.  We’ve also loved the toys at The Toymaker for years.

6.  Sit down with your kids and make up lists of 10 or 20 things you each love about special people in your lives.  You can write the lists for kids who aren’t writing yet, but keep it in their words and have them add some decorations. Take a picture to text or email to each loved one.

7.  Have some fun with photo apps.  We created this fun picture of Alex with the free Photo Labs app.  Or just open up Snapchat and take some fun selfies together.  Print out and frame your favorite, if you like.

8.  Have an early morning balcony picnic and watch the sunrise together.  Get up early and grab something simple like fruit and a cup of tea and go sit and watch the sunrise together.  You can watch from your balcony, the roof of your apartment, your back yard or even a good window.  Take some time to just soak in the beauty and connect.

9.  Have a cleaning party together.  Yes, really!  Dress up in fabulous play dress-up clothes (party hats and/or tiaras are a must!), blast some happy music, grab some fun treats and clean like crazy together.  Set a timer for every 15 minutes to take a break and enjoy some treats together, and concentrate on being as wild and wacky as possible as you clean.  Celebrate when you’re finished by making a fun new mess by cooking together or doing crafts.

10. Make colorful soap clouds.  If you happen to have any Ivory soap and a bit of food coloring, this is a great time to make colorful Ivory soap clouds (and learn the science behind what’s happening).

11. Waste a box of birthday candles on repeated wishes at lunchtime.  Blowing out the candles is some of the most fun of birthdays for some kids, so sometimes it’s fun to do it just because.  Just put them one at a time in a muffin, sandwich, whatever.  Light the candle, make a wish, blow, repeat!  You join in too!

12. Make puzzles for breakfast.  Use cookie cutters to cut shapes out of toast, pancakes or french toast.  Let kids match the shapes to the pieces with the holes and fit back in.

13. Blow bubbles off the balcony or out the window.  This is especially fun if you live up high!

14. Do freeze dancing.  Put on a CD (or find some good songs on you-tube) and have the kids all dance wildly.  Every time you hit pause, they have to freeze in place.

15. Have the kids make up funny fortunes and put them in homemade fortune cookies or leave them in unexpected places like cereal boxes.

16. Play the gratitude game at dinner.  Go through the alphabet taking turns naming one thing you’re grateful for in life for each letter.  Anything counts, from artichokes to Aunt Julie.  🙂

17. Send people some laughs.  Task the kids with finding their favorite corny jokes, funny videos and other things that crack them up.  Text them to friends and family or have the kids call and tell them over the phone.

18. Cut out dozens of construction paper hearts and write a reason you love each other on each one.  Cover the windows or a door with them all, or hang them from the ceiling on lengths of yarn or ribbon.

19. Make poetry shells.  Gather up a bunch of pistachio shells, smooth rocks  or other natural objects and use a magic marker to write words on them.  Make sure to use adjectives, nouns and verbs.  For example…. I, you, we, love, wet, dogs, jumped, lick, stars…. the more words you make the more variety you can get in your poem.  Drop the rocks in a bucket, shake, and grab a handful to arrange into each line.  Make sure to add some funny words!

20. Throw a dinner party just for your family.  Put out the good china and some delicious appetizers, set the table grandly and dress the part.  Put on some music, light some candles and take your time enjoying your own company together.

21. Make up a batch of homemade playdough (white) and then hide different colors inside.  Poke a hole in the middle and add a little bit of food coloring.  Encourage kids to knead their balls of playdough and watch as they discover there’s more to it than it first appeared!  You can also do color mixing this way (make yellow and add blue to the center of one and red to another, for instance).

22. Bring snow or mud inside for the kids to play with.  Fill a big tub and give them cars, chopsticks, you name it to play with it.

23. Try circus tricks together.  See if you can juggle, balance a ball on your nose, walk a “tightrope” on the floor, clown around and so on.

24. Discover a new (old) TV series together.  This is a great time to introduce the kids to comedies that might have been before their time.  Our kiddos have really enjoyed My Name is Earl, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, Raising Hope and Malcolm in the Middle (note that there is sometimes mature content for little ones).  There are other great shows besides comedies too.  Smallville was a huge family favorite here (and it was on for ten years so there are tons of episodes!).  Other old shows to check out include Monk, The Great British Baking Show and Trading Spaces (though I’m not sure if that one’s available on streaming?).  Please add your recommendations in the comments!

25. Challenge the kids to make each other laugh as much as possible.  Try for all out belly laughs, snorts and the type of giggles where you can’t catch your breath.  If you can, catch it on tape to make you all laugh all over again later.

26. Go sledding or ice skating in the kitchen! Pull little ones around on towels, or have them put on socks and slip around the floor.  Older kids can pull the little ones and accidentally get some exercise in at the same time!  If you’re brave enough, give them a bucket of warm soapy water and have them “mop” the floor with their stocking feet.  My girls used to love to do this, though it can get pretty wet!

27. Start a recipe box or cookbook of family recipes you teach your child. Bake and cook them together and write each one out as you teach it to add to the collection.  Don’t know very many?  Learn together!

28. Be outrageously silly at odd times, for no reason, all day long!  Suddenly widen your eyes and say, “Oh no! I forgot to give you noisy kisses!” and scoop up your toddler.  Stick your tongue out and grin at your teenager.  Be silly as much as you possibly can.

29. Do some Pinterest-inspired arts and crafts.  Find a fun project, tutorial or bit of inspiration and sit down together to give it a try.

30. Start a paper chain of happy memories and accomplishments.

31. Have a family jam session.  Gather up instruments or make your own by filling containers with pennies and getting pots to bang on.  I love having older kids now who are great at playing the guitar and ukelele, but I also love hearing the little ones playing the kazoo or just shaking maracas.  My husband is great at playing a dozen instruments and I have a hard time even keeping a beat while clapping, but we have such fun all playing together.  Play songs you know and love, or make up songs together as you go.

32. Learn how to do The Cup Song with the kids.  Or, go old school and teach them how to do The Macarena or The Hand Jive.

33. Have fun with boxes.  If you’re getting lots of boxes coming into the house right now, why not let the kids put them to use?  Let them use them to make robots, tunnels, playhouses, you name it.  You can be fancy and help out, like the ultra-creative mama at Life as a Thrifter

Or just let the kids loose to make up their own fun!

34. Cut up a zillion paper snowflakes and decorate the house.  Paint them with watercolors to make them extra special.  Coffee filters make it even easier.

35. Have a silly word day.  Pick an ordinary word to be the silly word of the day, and anybody who accidentally says that word during the day has to do something silly.  For instance, if the silly word of the day is “car” and you forget and say it, you might cluck like a chicken or yodel.

36. Compliment each other, balloon style!  Pick someone in the room to focus on and toss a balloon up in the air.  Everybody else has to keep bopping the balloon up and keep it from hitting the ground.  You can’t bop it without calling out something fabulous about your subject though!  Think quick! See how long you can keep it up (and how many wonderful things people can think up about each other!).

37. Have an inside snowball fight!  Crumple up oodles of paper from the recycling bin and give each player a laundry basket full.  Find some good launching spots (behind the couch, behind a table…) and commence flinging!

38. Wear fancy clothes all day, just because.  We’ve had a whole stash of thrift store costumes, capes and prom dresses for years to make an ordinary Monday seem more special.

39. Start a family poem wall.  Put up a large piece of paper on a door and put a pen nearby.  Ask every family member to add a word every time he or she passes.  It can be silly or serious.  Save the finished poems in an album or scrapbook.

40. Have a paper airplane derby. You’ll find free patterns for simple to fancy planes, helicopters, rockets, frisbees and more here.  This is also a fun way to reuse old coloring pages, worksheets, scrapbooking paper and even maps.

41. Start making toasts every night at supper.

42. Bake bread together.

43. Clear out a back closet or other out of the way place to become a secret hideaway for your child.  Stock it with flashlights and lots of fun items to decorate it.

44. Play balloon volleyball.  If you have enough balloons, try some of these other fun balloon activities.

45. Do some melted crayon art.  Line a warming tray or electric griddle with tinfoil and then place a sheet of paper on it.  Let kids draw on the paper with crayons, pressing down and drawing slowly so the crayons will melt into vibrant, waxy pools as they draw.  You can use mittens to help protect little ones from getting burned, but close supervision and cautions about the heat are the best protection.  We turn the heat to around 200 for little ones and 250 for older kids (and more satisfying results).

46. Take apart a bunch of old jewelry and try to make a new artistic creation together.

47. Let the kids decorate you.  As a busy homeschooling mama of five, I’ve had many days of entertaining kiddos even when life was… interesting.  One noteworthy day when I was particularly tired and sick from morning sickness, I let my little ones decorate me with washable markers and an older child gave me a pedicure.  🙂  They had a blast and I got to rest on the couch with my feet up!

(Side note: Every week for my prenatal visit with Fiona, my doctor would look to see what kind of a pedicure I had for that visit, since my kids were so fond of giving me crazy paint jobs and they always made her smile.  I also once accidentally showed up with magic marker legs under my pants that I’d forgotten about!)

48. If you have the go-ahead to walk around your neighborhood, grab a pack of colorful sidewalk chalk and head out to make the world more cheerful (even your own driveway).  Have the kids leave happy faces, sweet notes, rainbows, silly cat faces, flowers, goofy aliens, you name it, in various places just to make people smile.

49. Learn some new games — or make them up!  We play lots of card games here but also have fun making up games.  My older kids are especially good at finding creative new games online and then coming up with homemade versions.

50. Stage a virtual talent show for loved ones.  Assemble costumes and props and then sing songs, put on clown acts, recite poems, tell jokes, do magic tricks, whatever and record it all.  Send it to a loved one who could use a smile (and save it for years later when you can all smile at the memory!).

But most of all…

Have a little fun.

Our kids are relying on us to keep them feeling safe right now, so it’s a good time to turn off the TV and just focus on staying healthy and happy at home together.

This list is literally just a drop in the bucket of all the wonderful ways to make the best of the situation right now, but I hope it gives a little inspiration.  I’ll try to be back soon with another list.

Please add your favorite suggestions to the comments!

And with that, I’m off to play Nerts with my kiddos and rustle up lunch.  Stay well.  We’re all in different circumstances and some of us may feel especially alone right now, but we’re all in this together.  It’s a good time for all of us to count our blessings, love on our kiddos, and as always — don’t forget to take good care of you.

     ~Alicia 💙


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Filed under happy stuff, Ways to make today magical

Exciting News

I have happy news for our family.  Rhiannon Lee (Annalee or Anna to old time readers, Rhia nowadays) and I have published a children’s poetry book!

Poems from Under a Toadstool

It all started when Rhia showed me her mushroom doodles in her journal last year.  I fell in love with them and told her they should be in a children’s book.  She suggested that I could write poems for a book and they could be the illustrations (many, many years ago I was a poet) and we decided to collaborate.

So she gave me her drawings to scan, and every so often I would sit and work on mushroom poems (and nature poems, and related poems…).

Poems From Under a Toadstool (If Ever)

Poems from Under a Toadstool

I added a glossary to the back, since some of the poems had bigger words like biome and mycology, and space for kids to add their own poems, drawings and spore prints at the end.

Poems from Under a Toadstool (Mycology)

We were in no hurry.  It was just a fun joint project.  Then she got the opportunity to move to West Virginia for three months, and she started working extra hard to earn extra money for all of her expenses.  That lit a fire under me to get the book finished and out into the world to help her out.

The book was published last week and is available on Amazon (affiliate link) if you’d like to take a peek .  If you’re interested, you can order it through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  It would also help us out enormously if you asked your local library to carry it!

Half of the profits will go to Rhia as she embarks on this new adventure.  My half will go to support my nonprofit children’s nature magazine, Wild Kids Magazine, which costs a fair bit to host since it sees so much monthly traffic that we regularly get overage charges to our web hosting.  I offer the magazine for free to do good in the world (just like Magical Childhood), but it would be great if it didn’t cost so much to do good some months!  😉

I’m also working on putting up a free print of one of the illustrated poems for folks to print out.  Look for that soon.

Wish us luck, and wish us extra luck as Rhia heads off next week on this exciting new chapter in her life.





Filed under happy stuff

March 2020 Wild Kids Magazine

The March 2020 issue of Wild Kids Magazine is up!

For those who are new to the magazine, Wild Kids is a free monthly printable nature-based magazine that I publish as a nonprofit way to put some more good in the world.  Each issue includes ways to learn and play in nature that month, foraging information, a weather tree to track the month’s weather, nature study pages and seasonal poems and activities.  This year, I’m including vintage nature-themed cards each month, too (so far we’ve had butterfly fairies, birds and trees).

You can check out the March issue here.

Have fun!


Filed under happy stuff, neat stuff elsewhere

Beluga Whale Fun

I happened upon a pretty incredible video that you have to see to believe today — a beluga whale playing fetch!

Now if that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.  🙂

I had to share it, and figured I might as well see if I could find some fun stuff about beluga whales for kids to go along with it.  So….

Here are a few facts about beluga whales for the kids…

  • Beluga whales are also called white whales.
  • They are one of the smallest species of whales.  Even so, they can still reach 2,000 to 3,000 pounds and 13-20 feet long.
  • Beluga whales are mammals, like us.
  • Like us, they are very social and like to be around others.  They live in small communities called pods.
  • Belugas eat fish, crustaceans and worms.
  • They live mostly in the Arctic.
  • Belugas like to talk and are nicknamed “sea canaries” because they are so vocal. They talk to each other with clicks, clangs and whistles, and can also imitate other sounds they hear.
  • Belugas love to play!  There are lots of reports of them swimming alongside boats and of playing with objects they find in the water, both in the wild and in captivity.
  • They are endangered.  They need our help keeping the oceans safe to keep them safe.

And here are some fun crafts about beluga whales

OFLC MOPS has this fun marshmallow beluga craft and some links.


All Kids has a darling sock whale craft.

Leenawee Great Start has a fun and simple Baby Beluga painting project.

The Iowa Farmer’s Wife has a darling paper bag beluga.

The Joy of Sharing has a sweet paper plate beluga craft.

Learn Create Love has a great beluga printable with some more info.

And lastly, thechristinejuang has a free tutorial to make these adorable stuffed belugas.

Have fun!

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10 Ways to Make Today Magical

Happy Monday! 

Long time, no see, I know!  How about we make a little magic this week? 

Note:  I started this post early Monday morning but I have a sick little girl today so I am just now finishing it.  Lucky for me, it’s still Monday so I’m still good.  😉

Here are ten little ways to make a little magic with your kiddos this week…

1. Leave some painted rocks in nature for folks to stumble upon. 

painted rock fiona

2.  Give the kids some paint pens or labels and pens, and let them alter some of your spice bottles with magical or crazy names.  Basil can become fairy grass or peppercorns can become eye of newt.  Let the kids’ imaginations run wild!  We did this a few years ago and it was so fun to open the cupboards and find our renamed containers!  

3.  Make a wreath for the door together. It can be made of anything — grapevine wreaths decorated with ornaments and ribbon, pine boughs wired in a circle with a big bow, or simple colored paper hand prints.  Do it together and hang it proudly.

4.  Head outside for a nature scavenger hunt.  If you like, make it an alphabet hunt and try to find items that start with each letter of the alphabet (like wooly bear caterpillar for W). 


5.  Give little ones laundry basket rides in the kitchen or down the hallway.  Put a pillow in the bottom, plop a child in and then push, pull and spin it around to your little one’s delight.  You can thread a jump rope or scarf through some holes or the handle to make it easier to pull.  Kids can give each other rides too (and the pulling is great exercise to expend some of that extra energy!).

6. Learn a song together and film yourselves singing it (as flamboyantly as possible!). Send the clip to loved ones and spread some smiles.

7.  Make Painted Soap Clouds


8.  Go gather some pine cones (or whatever is similar in your part of the world) and bring them home to craft with them.  Cover them with glue, glitter, sequins and multicolored paint to display them all over the house and as ornaments.  Nothing is more fun to your average small child than getting to make gluey, glittery, multi-colored messes!

9. Leave silly notes in hiding places all over the house. It may take months for somebody to stumble on all of them, but it’s a wonderful way to break up an ordinary day to suddenly stumble on a note that says “Mama loves you” or “Kisses!  You must come give your grandma 18 kisses immediately upon finding this!”.

10. Dress up in super fabulous clothes and go grocery shopping.  Crowns optional!

And with that, chickadees, I’m off to hopefully not disappear for quite as long this time.  Have a magical week!



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Making Mushroom Spore Prints!

Have you and your kiddos ever made spore prints?  It’s easy to do and so fun — not to mention a bit educational!

Spore prints! A Magical Childhood

Miss Fiona and I made some spore prints this month from wild mushrooms that big sister Rhiannon (Anna to you old time readers) found while hiking in the woods with our dog, Moose.  The oyster mushrooms made white spore prints that looked beautiful on black construction paper, while the mysterious others (tentatively identified by hubby but I forgot what he thought they were) gave us some brown and grayish ones. 

Spore prints from other mushrooms can be green, pink and more!

Mushroom hunters use spore prints to identify mushrooms, but they’re also just really fun to make.

I put instructions on how to make them in this month’s Wild Kids Magazine, a free nature magazine that I’ve been putting out this year.  You can read it and find out more about spore prints there.  Make sure to talk to kids about mushroom safety, and wash hands afterwards.

Have a magical week!

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New Meta-Analysis of Hundreds of Studies: Nature Boosts Children’s Learning in Eight Ways

nature boosts children learning

A large metastudy of hundreds of scientific studies has found what most parents and teachers already know — nature has a powerfully positive impact on children’s learning and on their emotional health.

“Report after report – from independent observers as well as participants themselves – indicate shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, and resilience,” the authors wrote.  “The evidence here is particularly strong, including experimental evidence; evidence across a wide range of samples and instructional approaches; outcomes such as standardized test scores and graduation rates; and evidence for specific explanatory mechanisms and active ingredients.”

The meta-analysis (a study that combined the results of many other studies) was published last month in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.  After combining all of the findings, the researchers found that nature helps children learn in eight different ways.

The eight key ways that nature helps children learn were:

Nature Rejuvenates Kids and Helps Them Focus

Studies showed that whether it was students going on field trips, Swedish preschoolers, children in Chicago public housing, or 5 to 18-year-olds with ADHD, nature had a rejuvenating effect on attention.  These findings were confirmed not just by parent and teacher ratings, but by neurocognitive tests.

Nature Relieves Stress

The studies showed that even seeing nature out the classroom window had a positive effect on kids, lowering their heart rates and leading to kids who reported lower stress levels.  Better yet were the kids who were able to learn in a forest setting once a week.  Those kids had lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels even beyond what could be attributed to the physical activity of being outdoors.

Contact With Nature Boosts Self-Discipline

Studies from Spain to inner city Chicago showed that kids who spent time in nature had better impulse control, including kids with ADHD and learning disabilities.  Contact with animals such as horses was found to also have a positive effect.

Student Motivation, Enjoyment, and Engagement Are Better in Natural Settings

Many of the studies found that students and teachers reported strikingly high levels of student engagement and motivation, not just in nature activities that kids had chosen to take part in but also in mandatory school activities in nature.  The researchers noted that learning in and around nature was associated with intrinsic motivation and not just extrinsic motivation (meaning kids were motivated to do things themselves and not doing them because they were forced to), which is important in keeping kids engaged and interested in learning.

“The positivity of learning in nature seem to ripple outward, as seen in learners’ engagement in subsequent, indoor lessons, ratings of course curriculum, materials, and resources and interest in school in general, as well as lower levels of chronic absenteeism,” the authors wrote.

The researchers also found that “learning in nature may improve motivation most in those students who are least motivated in traditional classrooms.”

Time Outdoors Is Tied to Higher Levels of Physical Activity and Fitness

Children’s time outdoors was linked to cardiorespiratory fitness, the type of fitness most clearly associated with better academic performances.  Studies also showed that kids who had access to nature stayed more active, even into adulthood.

Natural Settings Provide Calmer, Quieter, Safer Contexts for Learning

The researchers found that both formal and informal learning improved in nature.  When they were learning in a natural setting, kids were less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors like pushing each other or talking out of turn.  “Further, in greener learning environments, students who previously experienced difficulties in traditional classrooms are better able to remove themselves from conflicts and demonstrate better self-control,” the authors noted.

Natural Settings Foster Friendlier, More Cooperative Relations

Many of the studies showed that natural settings helped kids make friends and feel more trusting.  The researchers theorized that the kids were able to engage more with each other, and that they had a better spirit of cooperation not just with each other but with their teachers.  In addition, they reported that “learning in greener settings has been consistently tied to the bridging of both socio-cultural differences and interpersonal barriers (e.g., personality conflicts) that can interfere with group functioning in the classroom.”

Natural Settings Encourages “Loose Parts” Play, Independence and Healthier Forms of Play

The benefits of “loose parts” play (play involving small objects that kids can use to play and create in open-ended ways) are extended into nature, where kids have access to sticks, rocks, water, dirt and other natural materials.  Studies have shown that teachers and principals found that kids who engaged in loose parts play in nature had more physically active, social and creative play, which were likely to lead to improvements in social, emotional and academic development.

Some of the most interesting studies included:

  • One study of over 3,000 students found that kids who took part in a classroom garden learned more than those on the wait list.  The more garden time they had, the more they learned.
  • Several studies showed that having nature around schools led to better standardized test scores, even in schools with high poverty levels.
  • Many studies showed that time in “wilderness” led to kids developing better leadership skills, resilience, self-confidence, cooperation, perseverance, critical thinking and more.
  • Greener everyday environments seemed to buffer kids from stress and give them better coping skills.

The authors noted that even small doses of nature helped kids, like being able to see nature out their classroom windows.  Obviously, the more time they spent in nature, the better, though.  They wrote:

“Even small exposures to nature are beneficial. If you’re indoors, having a view of your yard as opposed to facing the wall, that makes a difference. At the same time, more is better. That’s one of the things that gives us more confidence that we’re seeing a real cause-and-effect relationship,” Kuo says. “The bigger the dose of nature we give a person, the bigger the effect we see in them.”

Looking for some inspiration to get your kids outside?  I’ve been publishing a free nature-based monthly magazine for kids and their grown ups this year — Wild Kids Magazine.  You and your kiddos can read it online or print it out. It’s a nonprofit project (just as this blog always has been), just to try to do my little bit to spread good stuff in the world.

wild kids collage

Want to help convince your school to incorporate more nature in its learning?  These organizations may be able to help.

Natural Start Alliance works to connect parents, teachers, day care providers and others who teach kids “with the tools they need to create great educational experiences that help young children explore the natural world, understand their environment, and build lifelong skills that will help keep them active and engaged in their communities.”

The Children & Nature Network encourages and supports the people and organizations working to reconnect every child in every community with nature. The network provides a critical link between researchers, individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being. C&NN also provides resources for sharing information, strategic initiatives and success stories.

I’ve also created a list of my favorite nature-based books for families (and those I can’t wait to read) on Goodreads, from The Wild Weather Book to How to Grow a School Garden.  Please add your favorites!

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.” 

–David Polis

Here’s to more nature goodness for all of us.


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