A recent thread on a list serve I follow for educators of young children focused on regulations around bringing them outside in cold weather. In Virginia, I learned, teachers can’t bring children outdoors when temperatures fall below 40 degrees! Here in New England, we consider 40 to be downright balmy.
Children need outside play in all kinds of weather. We know that many environmentalists developed their love of nature by spending lots of time outdoors in natural settings as children. Still, access to the outdoors for extended periods of time can be limited during the winter.
To engage children with nature even during the coldest months, bring the outdoors inside.
One way to do this is to create a terrarium playground. It’s not exactly a terrarium, because you won’t be planting anything. Instead, it’s an open box with dirt, sticks, moss, leaves, and other natural collectibles, which you and your child can arrange together. Add figurines and other small toys - dinosaurs, or fairies, or trucks, whatever interests your child - and let them play.
A cardboard box that’s approximately 1’ x 2’ or larger should work (perhaps discarded from a package that arrived at your home in the holiday rush). Cut off one flap and tape the others up, or if it’s deep, cut down one side so there’s still a rim, but a small one of three inches or so.
Then line the box with a piece of plastic. We used a kitchen trash bag; you could also use discarded shopping or produce bags.
Add in some potting soil and rocks (the kids painted our rocks). Insert some sticks into the soil to make “trees.” Moss makes a nice addition, adding some green to the tableau. Spanish moss also adds a nice touch. Collect leaves, pebbles, or other treasures from outside to create pathways through the “woods.” Put some water in a shallow bowl to make a “pond.”
Then add in some small toys, and let your child play. Spread some newspaper or an old tablecloth on the floor underneath the “terrarium playground,” because they’ll make a mess. The dirtier the better!
Have fun, and send me some pics of what you and your child create. Let me know, either in the comments or on our Facebook page, how your child plays with it.