• Two brothers hunt for tadpoles. (Photo: Michael Hulak/Canadian Geographic Photo Club)

Whether by foot, bike, canoe or car, summer has always been portrayed as a time when kids and adults alike could venture outside and explore the great outdoors. But slowly that is changing. More kids than ever are spending time indoors, often in front of screens, and not engaging in the unstructured play that defined childhood for generations.

Drew Monkman and Jacob Rodenburg’s explore these issues (while providing nifty ways to get kids back outside) in their new book The Big Book of Nature Activities.

Some numbers highlighted include:

  • 2,500 - the number of advertising messages a child encounters each day
  • 2,738 - the number of hours the average North American child sits in front of a glowing screen each year
  • 183 - the number of hours a child spends outside in unstructured play per year - that is just more than 7 days!
  • 300 - the number of corporate logos the average child can identify
  • 10 - the number of native plants and animals the average child can identify.

We at Canadian Geographic Education believe that nothing beats the outdoors for learning about oneself and one’s environment. So don’t be one of Monkman and Rodenburg’s statistics; get outside with your family and challenge these numbers by learning more about nature in your local environment and making a stronger connection to it. Here are five tips gleaned from The Big Book of Nature Activities to get you and your family started.

1. Explore with all of your senses
Exploring your surroundings is not just about what you can see, it's about using all of your senses. This summer, select five of your favourite spots to relax outside and consider all the things you can see, hear, touch and smell. Be careful of taste. It is unsafe to taste any plant that you cannot identify as safe to eat, but if you are near a garden, see what is growing and what you can eat? (hint: dandelion greens are great for you and have a mustardy taste) How do these spots differ and how are they similar?

2. Find a balance between nature and technology
Don’t give up technology cold turkey — find a way to use it to help you learn outside. Use your smartphone to take pictures of plants, animals and insects in your neighbourhood then research more about them. Learn to GeoCache, go on real-life scavenger hunts, or start your own nature blog describing your daily adventures.

3. No animal is too boring to learn about
Next time you are out for a walk in your neighbourhood or sitting on your porch, find an animal or insect and observe it. Where do you see it? how does it move? what is it doing? and where does it go? Write your questions down in a journal and draw a sketch of it. If you do this each week you will have your own personal encyclopedia of creatures from your neighbourhood by the end of the summer.

4. Connect with nature even when you can’t be outside
Do not let rainy days or thunderstorms keep you away from learning about nature. Summer usually generates more severe thunderstorms than other seasons. Use this indoor time to learn about the weather patterns in your region and across Canada. You can learn how thunderstorms are formed, how to tell if a thunderstorm is likely and what to do to stay safe. You can also learn and how plants and animals cope with severe weather. When the rain stops, put on your rubber boots and go outside to explore how the rain has transformed your backyard.

5. Explore at dawn, dusk and beyond!
Exploring nature does not have to be just a day thing. Nighttime exploration can teach you a lot about the hemisphere or latitude you live in simply by observing the time of day the sun sets and where the big dipper is located in the sky. Additionally, dawn and dusk are some of the best times of the day to learn about local animals and their behaviours. Don’t let a setting sun stop you from learning about what’s out there - just make sure you have the proper equipment and company to do it safely.