Research says that engaging with nature reduces stress in both adults and children. For children, the added benefit is that it gets them to be physically active and helps them develop cognitively through imagination and dramatic play. There is also social learning through interactions with others. However, the most important reason for Muslim children to engage with the natural world is that they are learning about Allah through His creations.
Engaging with nature is more than just playing outdoors in the playground. It's about exploring trees and mini beasts. It's about smelling the flowers and wondering at the symmetry. It's about digging the earth and hugging trees (or climbing them).
Make it a daily habit to take your children outdoors, into your backyard or the nearest park. There's no need for formally organised activities. In fact, these tend to hinder children. Instead, just give them a plot to dig in or make mud pies. Let them climb trees or make play food. Let them take care of a plant or a few bugs. Just let them play.
Throughout all of this, gently remind them that Allah made the soil for us to grow things, or that Allah created trees to provide us and the animals with shade and maybe even fruit, that the flower or bug is an amazing creation of Allah just look at the beauty of it or the amazing things it can do.
Below are some ideas to get your children into the garden.
Provide your child with children size spade and watering can. If your children is interested to grow something then try radish. They says it's quick and easy to grow. When growing things, just have a few rules such as try not to dig it out until ready. Then allow them to garden as they choose.
You should also be gardening to model how to garden while your children are doing it. Grow your own fruit and vegetables. I remember planting a large strawberry patch that my nephews and nieces loved going into and picking the fruit.
If you don't have a backyard then try container gardening on your balcony or under a window. There are also community gardens that you could join. If none of these are available then visit the public parks and gardens.
Just observing things growing is a great lesson in how Allah creates things and demonstrates His Greatness. Gently remind children of this throughout and whenever they're in a garden.
Provide your children with a toy tea set or kitchen set. Take it outdoors and set it up on a table or rug. It won't be long before your children start to look for water to fill the cups or tea pot and fake food from leaves and flowers for the plates. Let your children lead to how they want to play it. You just follow along if they want to serve you.
Playing with pretend food can give children practice with applying the sunnah of eating. Say bismillah before eating, eat with the right hand and take what's nearer to you and so on. These can be gentle reminders or you can model them when your child serves you some pretend food.
Watch the Clouds
If your children are in a restful mood and it's a warm day with clouds in the sky then spread a rug on the grass. Lay down and watch the clouds drifting by. If your children are in the mood then you can play guess the cloud shapes. Take turns saying what you see in the cloud shapes.
Gently remind your children that Allah made the clouds and the clouds give us wind and rain. I remember after playing in the garden and wondering at the beauty of Allah's creations in the flowers, my 4 year nephew laid back on the grass, looked at the sky and chanted, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar...". It was a beautiful moment, mashaAllah.
Nature Art and Crafts
Go on a nature hunt for nature things to stick in a collage. Find leaves and bark to take rubbings of their patterns. Look for flowers and leaves to press and preserve and later on, make into a picture.
Take a closer look at the veins on the leaves and the texture of the bark as it hangs on the fridge door. Wonder at the petals on the flowers and the shapes of the leaves of your children's artwork.
Playing in the Outdoors
Of course, you can't forget the many outdoor activities that children can play. There's water play, sand play, ball games, tricycles, bicycles, roller skates, roller blades, scooters and climbing frames.
Playing in the outdoors instead of in a room will remind children of their natural surroundings. Comment on the weather: the sun shining; the breeze blowing, the leaves swaying and so on.
Make nature play a part of your children's daily activities. It is through the beauty of nature that you can continue to nurture children's wonder of Allah.