How to Bring the Outdoors In When You’re Stuck Inside
The cooped-up feeling every household is experiencing is natural. Many of us are sticking close to home and haven’t seen friends or loved ones in weeks. It’s compounded for the folks who must spend most of their time indoors, whether because of their living situation, work requirements, financial restraints or local restrictions.
Even though many of us can’t recreate the magic mix of the great outdoors inside right now, we can weave in nature’s sensory elements and still get some of the benefits. For example, research even tells us that simply seeing photographs of nature can have restorative effects.
So, whether you’re indoors because you don’t have private outdoor space or because you have to work during the day or both, here are some easy ways to bring a little outdoors inside:
Add nature elements to your home environment
Let there be light. Focus on a natural light source, rearranging your current furniture design if need be. Put a table or some chairs right next to the window so you and the kids can spend much of the day soaking up sunshine.
Get fresh air. If it’s not too cold, open up the windows and let a breeze flow through your home. Even if it’s chilly, put on heavy sweaters or your coats, stand around the window and enjoy some deep breaths a few times a day.
Import nature objects. If you can’t play in the park, bring a few nature objects indoors. Just a few sticks, rocks, pinecones and leaves can offer kids the chance to feel, smell, see, hear and interact with nature. (If you can, make a plan to bring the treasures back to wherever you found them—you can still teach "leave no trace" when all this has passed.)
Play nature sounds. Research shows that nature sounds are highly relaxing for all of us. So, go ahead and play them in the background all day long to help bring nature indoors. Check out nature sounds apps on Google Play, Apple App Store, search in Spotify, or listen for free online at Calmsounds.
Borrow from the kitchen. Many of the items in our kitchens originate from nature. And, even though we all need to conserve food, you could allocate a little dried food for play before you cook it. For example, pour rice or dried beans into a large bowl and let kids scoop, funnel and even bury other objects for marvelous sensory play. Or, open up the spice cabinet so a pinch of this or a dash of that could become the next potion.
Give extra time to house plants. Our house plants are often overlooked. Involve the kids in caring for the plants and make time to gently observe, feel, smell and even chat with them. If you have a large plant, use objects from around the house to make a fairy or mouse house in the pot.
Act like you are in nature
Support sensory freedom. One of the best things about being outside is freedom. It’s hard to recreate that within four walls, but we can designate a messy play zone to get kids a bit closer. The bathtub or shower stall is a perfect spot for this purpose—it’s contained and makes it easy to wash everyone down after the play is done!
Take a block walk. For those of us who live in concentrated urban areas (or not-so-concentrated suburban ones), this is a great time to just take a walk around the block. Let what you see, hear, and smell guide conversation with your littles. Find your favorite building. Find a building you’re curious about. Count your steps. Bring chalk and leave a little picture on a neighbor’s stoop or walk.
Play seasonal dress-up. If your kids are into dressing up, play dress up to match every season. Wonder together, if it were summer, what would we wear? Then set them loose in the closets to get outfitted. Once they’re dressed the part, segue to pretend play. Use play-dough to make snow-people, imitate a spring shower with a spray bottle and an umbrella in the bathroom, use bed sheets to make summery hammocks to hang in, or scatter crumpled up, fall-colored papers on the floor to simulate crunching leaves underfoot.
Keep nature top of mind. Make nature the focus of play lessons and activities. Got clay? Make a forest or a spring flower garden. Got paint? Look outside and paint a painting inspired by the sky or weather each day. Listen to nature sounds and draw or paint whatever the sounds inspire. Use boxes and sheets to create a play space that connects you to nature. Imagine your fort is a lion den, a bird’s nest or an underwater scene. Have fun playing lions, birds, fish or whatever animal superheroes your child is interested in. Sign up to get Tinkergarten at Home free DIY activities delivered to your inbox each week. They’re simple, fun and designed for family learning from home, using only what you have on hand. Plus they’re easy to do outdoors and include easy ways to bring them indoors.
Show your kids images of nature
Join us on Tuesdays for our Tinkergarten at Home LIVE session! We’ll stream to you from the great outdoors, but you can follow along and play from any home setting. Join us every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. ET on the
Turn screen time into green time. We all may need a little screen time these days, so use yours to immerse your family in nature scenes. There is a wealth of wonderful nature films for kids—and who wouldn’t love to use screens to help our kids fall even harder for other animals and our planet? Remember, just seeing natural beauty will give kids benefits, too! Here are some helpful sources:
- The Hidden World of our National Parks
- National Geographic Kids
- Best nature documentaries for kids, Fatherly
Make even the most ordinary moments special by infusing them with nature. This difficult time in our lives shall pass, and, when we look back, our families will remember the little, sweet moments we managed to create in the midst of all this challenge—and once we recover, so will we.