The magic of the outdoors

My kids LOVE the outdoors. Well, actually, Sweetie’s loved it since about three months old, when I would take her outside and sit in the waning days of our Wyoming summer. Little Dude is a bit more cautious, but really likes water and splash parks.

I think children are naturally attracted to the outdoors, and to nature, but unfortunately, society have a nasty habit of crushing their love and curiosity by the time they’re teenagers. Some of this is because we are all understandably busy, and it is simply easier to put them in front of a tablet than to plan an outing. Some of this is because we as parents don’t have the experience or confidence ourselves in going camping or hiking, and feel overwhelmed with where to start.

I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen to my kids. Sweetie seems to genuinely enjoy picking up leaves and rocks and bringing them into the house (no, I’m not exaggerating), and Little Dude loves throwing dirt and mulch into the air, and making piles.

Sweetie in the field!

I think a lot about how my spouse and I are encouraging their interests, and even that we need to support them to have outside interests. How does a parent do it? Especially in the hectic world that we all live in, when most live in urban settings, and might never see a farm until they start school?

I honestly think part of the answer is to allow ourselves to have interests, and to share them with our children. I read them books that I like, we take them to places that we enjoy. That seems to be rubbing off on them both. Heck, I even watch the TV shows I like with them (Doctor Who is her favorite, and I think Little Dude’s got the making of a serious gamer). We love going to “view spots” and just looking around, or stopping spontaneously by the side of the road if we see a historical marker. It keeps their interest, and ours.

The Natural Wildlife Federation has a great website with links and activities for getting kids more interested in the outdoors: Connect Kids and Nature. And there is emerging research that links outdoor time with better mental health – less anxiety and stress – in young children: Children’s Mental Health. Outdoor play extends children’s attention spans, and I’ve even read that there seems to be a connection between nearsightedness and the lack of sunlight a child might receive between 5 and 15 years old. We (as a society) are keeping our children in the house too much, and it’s affecting every part of them.

Child and Nature has some great tips for how to raise an “outdoor kid”, which first and foremost is for you to show them YOUR interest. If you don’t like camping and bugs, that’s fine. Find something else about the outdoors that you can enjoy with your kids. They’ll have a good time if you are. And their best advice: DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE SILLY.

The key seems to be to start early. Which is why we’ll take Sweetie and Little Dude out again tomorrow.

Does your local area have a “rock finding club” on Facebook? It’s a great way to catch their interest. Paint a few rocks and leave them for others to find, and then upload your own finds to the local page for everyone to see. Kids love showing off their hard-won finds!

-dlp

Published by

Drs. Dana Pertermann & Mark Neels

Friends, colleagues, and sparing partners, Drs. Dana L. Pertermann and Mark A. Neels collaborate on research in military history, politics, and culture. They are currently both college professors in Wyoming. They blog weekly about the past, the present, and the future of the U.S. and the world.

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