Spend any amount of time reading environmental related media and you will undoubtedly come across the term ‘wild time’. There is growing concern around the disconnection of our children and young people from the natural world, and an increasing understanding of how contact with nature is invaluable to a child’s development and wellbeing. ‘Wild time’ is a term used to define any time spent outdoors or engaging with nature. Some scientific studies suggest that time spent in nature, increased children’s ability to concentrate and improves results in cognitive tests. Additionally, playing outside provides fantastic opportunities to learn, grow confidence and self-reliance, responsibility for other living things and ability to judge risk.
If you want to encourage your children, grandchildren or other young people to interact with the natural world, the garden is a great place to start. Safe, secure and accessible, gardens, whatever size, are a portal to adventure right on your doorstep. (If you don’t have a garden, try taking a short trip out to a local park or other green space, or spot nature on the walk to school!)
Consider starting by engaging the senses – what can the children see, hear, smell and feel? Look for colour or textures, and find tracks or signs of the creatures that share the green space with you.
You could plant flowers to attract butterflies, or build homes for nature: check out the website for your local Wildlife Trust for lots of ideas! If you’re not sure where to start, why not go along to one of their events to have fun and be inspired.
Print this free colouring page of a Peacock butterfly on a sunflower and set your creativity free to create a masterpiece!
The pastime of wildlife photography has become hugely popular with digital cameras available to suit most budgets, and even mobile-phones are now capable of surprisingly good photos. For the beginner an enthusiast alike, our gardens are a fabulous place to start, they are accessible, attract a surprisingly wide range of wildlife, and we can control the scene e.g. building sets, or moving features that might be in the wrong place.
Photographing wildlife can be a challenge, but it can also help us look differently at the natural world. Capturing images can be a very useful aid when trying to identify species, and is a fun way to build up a record of your ‘visitors’.
My three top tips for wildlife photography:
- Composition – do you want a close up ‘portrait’ style photo, or perhaps an image that shows the creature’s habitat or surroundings?
- Background – what is behind the subject of the photo, for example, will everyone be distracted by your washing on the line rather than admiring the butterfly on your buddleia?
- Light and angle – most of us will automatically stand in from of the subject and take a photo with the camera at our eye-level, but try a different perspective and you’ll be amazed by the result. Think about where the light is shining from, is the sun lighting the subject from behind or the side? My favourite angle is to get down at the subject’s eye-level, whether it is a snail or a starling, as I feel this makes a much more engaging and interesting final image.
The Mental Health of Nature
The potential for contact with nature to have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing, whether it is through simply pending time outdoors or engaging in activities such as gardening, is becoming more widely recognised and is the subject of much research. Gardening is being used in some situations as therapy treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD and dementia amongst other conditions.
I personally consider contact with the natural world to be vital to my mental and physical health.
All I can say for certain is that when I return from a day at the allotment, (where I have had my hands in the soil, my sight filled with shades of green, birdsong ringing in my ears, undoubtably breathing in countless beneficial microbes, and taking time to allow my mind to relax), I feel a significant lift in my mood and a realistic boost to my ‘mental immune system’.
Put simply, contact with nature, particularly through the immediately, easily and intimately accessible form of my gardening, makes me happier, healthier, and more resilient.
I discussed this topic in a recent podcast, please listen via the link below and feel free to comment with your own thoughts or experiences.
If you do one thing: Take part in citizen science
There are many national surveys and campaigns which rely on the public sending in sightings of particular species, or seasonal changes such as bud birds or first fruits, in order to build a picture of the state of our wildlife and the effects of climate change or conservation efforts. Examples are the Big Garden Birdwatch, Big Butterfly Count, and Natures Calendar, but there are many more to get involved with.