For many of us, the glory days of our youth were highlighted by long days in the outdoors – with nature, running through the tall grass, climbing trees, catching bugs, walking through streams, catching waves at the beach, and everything else. Little did we know the impact all of this was having on our lives – beyond the bleached hair, dirty fingernails, and torn jeans.
Increasingly, research is telling us that outdoor experiences have tremendous educational, developmental, and health benefits – benefits that today’s young people sitting indoors glued to their televisions and video games are being denied.
Children who play and spend time outdoors regularly enjoy better motor skills, physical fitness, and general health.
Children who spend time in nature suffer fewer physical ailments and recover from illnesses faster. Walking through and exploring a natural area promotes coordination, balance, agility in children. Outdoor playtime in a natural setting for certain asthmatic children can assist in: reducing the number of severe attacks, medication usage, days missed from school, and wheezing. Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature.
And the list goes on …
But how can we foster a love of the outdoors in our children, particularly in this day and age when kids are increasingly sedentary?
Here are some tips to encourage your kids to have fun outdoors:
Start small. You don’t have to an all-day field trip to a wildlife refuge to begin learning about nature. Start with a visit to a small corner of your yard or neighborhood park. Look at the plants that thrive in asphalt cracks or the birds that live in your neighborhood. Even just sitting on the sidewalk, your kids can make observations about weather, vegetation, stormwater runoff, and more.
Get help. You may be surprised to know how many basic outdoor activities can be facilitated by someone with no scientific expertise. You don’t need to know the names of plants or birds for your kids to begin describing them in nature journals. Still, if you want to ease your transition to the outdoors, consider beginning with help from someone with more experience. Another knowledgeable parent or friend, or a visiting naturalist from a nearby nature center can all help you begin exploring the outdoors with your kids. Learn by their example, then ask for their guidance in devising strategies and plans for future explorations when you’re on your own. Audubon’s website provides some great activity ideas that anyone can facilitate.
Plan ahead. You can minimize many of the challenges of outdoor explorations by planning ahead. Make a visit to the site you wish to explore a day or two in advance. Determine the exact area your children will explore. Make a sketch of the site. Decide what activity you will do, what materials you will need, and how long you will spend outdoors.
Prepare your kids. Let your students know ahead of time that they will be spending time outdoors. Show them a sketch of the site and point out the places they can and cannot go. Encourage them to dress in casual clothes and comfortable shoes, and to bring a jacket in case of rain or cold.
Be flexible. No matter how well you plan, things probably won’t go exactly as you expect. Be prepared to adjust your plans to suit the needs of your children, the weather, and other unpredictable elements. At the same time, be open to unexpected opportunities that might come your way. Maybe one of the students has found a bird that has fallen from its nest. Perhaps someone from the city has come to plant new trees by the parking lot. You probably won’t regret scrapping your lesson plans to take advantage of such rich real-life learning opportunities.
Have fun. As much as possible, try to relax and have fun. If you’re having a good time teaching, your students will have a good time learning. As you will see, , the outdoor fun will come naturally!