Tearing your children away from their screens and into the backyard, let alone the woods, can be difficult, but the slew of benefits that the outdoors provides kids’ minds is ample reason to give it a try.
Happily there are lots of ways to make nature as stimulating as the activities kids like to do inside. Here are some ideas:
- Set up treasure hunts. Make a short, simple list of things for your kids to look for outside—such as “a shiny object,” or “something you can hold liquid in.” The satisfaction of finding the objects turns it into a reinforcing activity, and it will keep them outside in search of the next list item.
- Identify things. Get a book—with pictures—about birds, bugs, leaves, trees, or flowers in your local area, and go outside looking for specific creatures in the book to identify. Matching leaves to pictures and names has a reinforcing treasure hunt kind of appeal. The same goes for bird calls.
- Give them the tools to discover. Gifts like a bug box, a magnifying glass, or a shovel will promote ways to explore the outdoors with a fun new tool that feels professional and empowering.
- Go to an outdoor performance. Parks in almost every city have performances for kids, many of which are free. If your child can’t take her eyes off Nickelodeon, take her to a puppet show in the park. For older kids who like movies, take them to outdoor plays and musicals.
- Start a collection. You can find small parts of nature like rocks or shells almost everywhere, and starting a collection adds appeal, giving a kid motivation to search and therefore spend time outdoors. Just make sure you’re not in a state park—most have rules that don’t let you bring anything home.
- Use the technology to your advantage. If your kid is hooked on any and all electronic devices, have him bring along a camera or phone and create video or photo journals of various nature trips. He’ll still be near a piece of technology, but he’ll be using it to focus on the world around him.
- Go fruit or vegetable picking. Coming home with a basket of food that they’ve gathered on their own is both rewarding and might make them appreciate their food, and where it comes from, more.
- Plant a garden. Tracking the progress and seeing the eventual product of a seed your child planted provides a different, deeper sense of achievement than beating a difficult level in a video game or getting a lot of likes on your last Instagram.
- Take a hike. Walking on a trail to a waterfall or breathtaking view also gives kids a sense of accomplishment, rewarding them for their physical efforts during the hike. This goes for bike rides, too. If there’s a swimming hole at the end, they’ll even be able to cool off. Just don’t forget to bring snacks and take short breaks to keep their energy up!
- Make art projects. For the kids who would rather sit inside with some arts and crafts, get them to use objects from nature for their art. Picking flowers to press onto paper, using berry juice as paint, or collecting pinecones and rocks to decorate are ways to infuse nature into activities they already enjoy.
- Build something. You can also reverse the process and make art with your kids that will support and nurture the natural world—things like bird feeders or flower boxes. Kids will keep coming back to watch an object they created provide for other living things.
Organizations want to help you get your kids outside
The urgency of kids’ lack of outdoor play isn’t lost on nature and wildlife organizations, many of which have started programs to get more kids outside. As part of their effort to get 10 million kids outdoors, the National Wildlife Federation provides lots of ways to find connections to nature near you. Other programs to get kids playing in nature include the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, the US Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program, the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors program, and many more.
Always lead by example
All the advantages that nature offers ring true for adults, too, especially for stress relief and mood improvement. Try to get outside with your kids—not only will it show them how important spending time in nature is, but you might find you enjoy it just as much as they do.