Bringing the outdoors in

We are approaching two weeks of self-isolation in our household, and with the latest government guidelines will not be going anywhere soon. It’s been disorientating, and overwhelming at times, but I have never been more grateful for our garden and the freedom it gives us to get outside.

Staying home is hard for all of us, but if your home has no outdoor space – especially if you have children to keep happy and healthy – it is so much harder.

There is nothing that will quite take the place of being able to step out into the fresh air, but I’ve been thinking a lot about ways in which you might be able to bring the outdoors in, to commune with nature even when you can’t immerse yourself in it, and to enjoy at least some of the benefits that brings.

 

Fling open your windows

You may have to stay indoors, but you can do your best to break down the boundaries between outdoors and in by opening your windows wide.

In cities around the world which have been in lockdown for some time already one of the silver linings has been the drop in traffic and with it pollution. Hopefully as the reality of our situation starts to sink in here and more and more people stay at home the same will be the case, so that even if the air outside your windows would never normally be all that fresh that might just begin to change.

Use your window as a portal to the world beyond. Take this opportunity to really observe what goes on in your immediate surroundings, looking beyond the human impact to the nature that insists on finding a way to survive even in the most unlikely places.

You can capture your observations in a whole host of ways: take photographs, shoot videos, paint, draw, journal. An interesting project over the next few weeks might be to choose a window to focus on and document the changes that happen as the world enters into this great pause. What can you see at different times of day or night? Are plants beginning to flourish? Or even animals that might not usually dare to venture out? Don’t forget to consider what you can hear too: let yourself sit in silence and listen for the birds. See if you can identify some of their calls – these recordings of British bird song might help you.

There is a meditative, healing quality to slowing down and focusing on the little things in the world around us that might ordinarily get missed in the busyness of our lives: combining that with maintaining a connection with nature even when you’re stuck indoors might go a long way to easing the anxieties this strange time will inevitably bring.

 

Create your own indoor veg patch

You might think that the lack of a garden means that there is no way you can enjoy homegrown food, but actually with a little bit of creativity there are things you can grow that will add a bit of variety and extra nutrition to your diet.

One of the easiest things to grow is sprouted seeds: all you need is a jam jar and something to sprout, and within a few days you will have a healthy and delicious crop to add to salads, stir fries or sandwiches. You don’t even need to track down specific seeds for sprouting: dried lentils, chickpeas or beans will work, or even quinoa. There’s a wealth of information online about how to do it – this guide to sprouting lentils will get you started.

If you let your seeds grow for a little bit longer then you can enjoy a crop of microgreens. Bursting with nutrients these mini veggies should flourish in the Spring sunshine, and they are super delicious too.

Another simple ingredient you can grow indoors is lettuce – it only needs a few hours of sunlight each day, and only a few weeks before you will have a crop to harvest. You will need some compost or potting soil, and can grow from seed or even from leftovers, creating a never-ending supply right in your kitchen.

For something a bit more exotic you might want to try nasturtiums: plant the seeds in a pot in a sunny area and within two months you should have a tasty crop of leaves and flowers.

If you’re interested in growing food indoors then there are a wealth of resources online about how you can take this further – and even if you’ve never considered yourself to be especially green fingered in the past then now is most definitely the time to put that to the test.

 

Seek out live streams

If you need more than just a little taste of nature and want to immerse yourself more deeply in the world outside, then it might be worth checking out one of the many live streams that have sprung up connecting people who deliver outdoor workshops to the audiences who can no longer reach them in person.

One of our favourites is Wild Birds Singing, led by the talented and inspiring Holly Ebony. Before the world retreated Holly led regular family singing sessions in a woodland in Devon which were one of the highlights of our week. Now that we cannot gather around the fire Holly is delivering her sessions online every Monday morning: a wonderful opportunity to sing together and immerse yourself in (virtual) nature with a whole host of other families.

Another virtual outdoors experience that I’m keen to tap into is live wild food foraging with Fergus Drennan. Fergus has been running foraging courses for 18 years but the current situation has meant he’s had to put those on hold, but to make up for it he’s holding regular Instagram live sessions on Monday and Thursday mornings. The perfect way to build up a bank of knowledge about the free food available all around us for when you can venture back outdoors more easily.

I’m sure there are lots of other people creating similar opportunities – I would love to hear of any you have found, so please let me know in the comments!

 

Kick back with a nature documentary

There have been some incredible documentaries created over the past few years, and now is the perfect time to sit back and allow the wonder of our planet transport you beyond the four walls of your home.

Some of our favourites (which are all available on Netflix) are Our Planet, Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Life. The soothing voice of David Attenborough combined with stunning visuals and fascinating facts make all of these an ideal way to while away the time we have been gifted.

As an added bonus I find that both my seven year old and two year old will watch transfixed, and as screen time goes these programmes have a remarkably calming influence – as well as being packed full of educational value.

 

Make believe

Of course it’s not recommended to sit around watching passively for too long, and especially in the current circumstances children (and adults) need creative activities to get their teeth into. If you have young children, chances are they will love to transport themselves to all sorts of places in the world of their imagination – and this can be a gift for helping you capture some of the experience of being outdoors without actually being able to get there.

Den making is an obvious one to start with: whether you’re constructing it from branches or sofa cushions building a den is always a popular activity. You could enhance it further by having a picnic, or building an imaginary fire to toast marshmallows over. Maybe you could even have a sleepover inside your den: cwtched down in sleeping bags in the dark there is no limit to where you might have travelled.

Speaking of travelling, creating a boat is another great way to take your imaginary play outside of the walls of your home. Sofa cushions can work again, or maybe an upturned table: you could use a bedsheet to give it a sail, and the inside of a kitchen roll to create a telescope. ‘Fishing’ off the edge of the boat might be a fun activity – or maybe even diving in for a swim!

Swimming itself is something that is off limits for most of us at the moment, but if you have a bathtub you might be able to create a similar experience for small children. And perhaps that bathtub could become a beach, with shells and sea creatures – maybe even sand? Add a mask and snorkel and you have the perfect escape from reality for a little while at least…

 

Make plans

As much as there is value in living in the moment and making the very best we can of the situation we are currently living in, I think it’s really important as well to hold on to the fact that this will not be the way things are forever.

We might never get back to the same ‘normal’ we left behind: there is much to indicate that our society is undergoing a rapid evolution through this collective trauma, and that together we might strive to create something different when the threat of the virus has passed. But I think it is safe to say that we will not always be confined to our homes: we will be able to venture out, to meet with friends and family again and rub shoulders with strangers in public places.

And when we do, I strongly believe that we will see things we may have taken for granted through different eyes. We will value the natural world that is on our doorstep, and treasure the opportunities it gives us.

So while you are stuck at home, why not do some research into the areas you have around you? Parks and gardens you might not have visited? Footpaths you might not have explored? Maybe you could even draw a map, ready to lead you on adventures when circumstances change – and something to look forward to whilst your movements are so frustratingly constrained.

 

If the innovation and creativity I have seen from friends and colleagues over the past couple of weeks is anything to go by I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways you can compensate for your lack of outdoor access, but I hope it has sparked some inspiration in you that might make these days just a little bit easier to handle.

And if you have any other ideas then please do share them in the comments: I would love to hear them, and I’m sure there are lots of other people who would benefit from them too.

 

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