Our senses are tools we use every day to observe our surroundings. They shape how we experience the world and how we connect with each other. We can intentionally use our senses to get more of the proven benefits of spending time outdoors, including increased focus, boosted mood, reduced stress and greater physical activity. In these uncertain and challenging times, when we have the chance to safely spend time outdoors, focusing on our senses can be a good way to calm a busy mind or explore a familiar place with a new lens. Here are some activities that can help you and your family explore your local park, backyard or greenspace while practicing safe physical distancing.
Sight: Picture Frames
This activity will use a focusing tool—a picture frame—to help you notice composition in nature. You can use an empty picture frame, a piece of construction paper you cut to create a hollow rectangle, or simply make a “frame” with your hands by connecting the tip of your index fingers to the tips of the opposite thumbs. Look through the frame to choose an area that interests you. Experiment with angles and items that are close up or far away. Once you choose your subject blink slowly, scrunching up your eyes, and say “click!” This is your mental photo! Repeat as many times as you like.
Sound: ‘Fist Listen’ and Sound Map
Sounds are useful clues in nature because you’ll often hear something before you see it, if you see it at all! The tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker, the croak of a pacific tree frog or the nasal peep-peep of a nuthatch are all examples of sounds you might hear in nature. For the “fist listen” simply close your eyes, put your fist in the air and raise a finger to count every new sound you hear. If you want to add an artistic element to this listening activity try making a sound map. Draw an “X” in the center of a piece of paper to represent where you are. Use symbols, words or drawings to mark where you hear sounds around you. Be creative! How can you show volume and distance of a sound?
Smell: Forest Perfume
The goal of this activity is to highlight the smell of the forest by making a “forest perfume.” Start by smelling the items around you. If you smell something from a living plant, please leave it to grow, but if an item is loose on the ground, pick it up and place it in a small container, empty cup or your cupped hands. Fallen leaves or branches, pieces of bark, bits of soil, fallen moss and lichen are all great items for your perfume (and you’ll be surprised how great they can smell when all mixed together!). When you’re ready, compare your perfume with one another’s or with the smell of the forest. Be sure to find a special spot to empty your perfume before you leave.
Touch: ‘Tickly Prickly’
This activity is great for experiencing textures and consistencies. Have your child close their eyes while you pick up a few small objects from the ground. Try to get a variety of textures, like a tickly leaf, a smooth stone, a bumpy branch or a squishy piece of lichen. Have your children feel each item with their hands behind their back. When they’re ready, they can open their eyes and try to find the same object they felt behind their back, this time in their surroundings. Once they have a guess, show them the object they felt and see if it matches. You can also do a version of this game by calling out a texture for them to find as you walk along.
If you try any of these sensory activities you’re sure to experience nature in a new and special way, and feel inspired to pay close attention to your senses when outside. What do you notice? How does it make you feel? Early summer is the perfect time to explore nature with your senses, but you can also try these activities at any other time of year. Remember that with sensory activities, patience pays off! The longer you pay attention, the more you’ll notice.
Looking to get out of the house and try these activities? Please help keep regional parks safe and open by only visiting parks near your home, practicing physical distancing from other visitors, staying home if you’re sick, and only visiting parks with people from your household. For up to date information on CRD Regional Parks, visit crd.bc.ca/covid.