While visiting The Oregon Coast Aquarium this weekend with my children, I read a quote painted on the wall in the children’s area that said : “If we want children to flourish, we have to give them time to connect with nature and love the earth before we ask them to save it” (David Sobel). We have also been learning more about Helen Keller this summer as a family, and I love her quote that says: “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Both of these quotes really speak to me as I have really been making a stronger effort this summer to have my children outside as much as possible. We have been swinging, bike riding, berry picking, hiking, swimming (in pools and rivers),gardening, playing in the yard, and going on family walks as much as possible. I’m sure that many of you have been doing the same with your families with maybe even more additions to my list.
I have personally observed that my own children seem so much happier, fight with each other less, and behave better in general when given opportunities to connect with nature, whether on a hike at Bald Hill or in our own yard. Children of all ages really can flourish when we slow down and prioritize outside time every day. When given the opportunity to move outside freely, children encourage growth across all developmental domains.
Much of my motivation to get my children outside more often came after reading Richard Louv’s book: “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” If you are not familiar with this book, you can listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. In his book, Louv explores many of the contributing factors to less outside play today, which include media use in the home as well as parents perceived yet inaccurate assumption that we are raising children in much more dangerous times than when we were children (thus not allowing children to roam and explore). I know for me, one of the biggest barriers to getting my children outside can be weather. I have no problem getting my kids outside for long periods when the weather is nice, but it can definitely be harder for all of us to be motivated on a rainy day in February when I’d quite honestly rather stay inside and bake pumpkin bread, even if my kids would be up for time in nature.
Though I am making a stronger effort to make outside time the norm in our family, we are far from perfect when it comes to getting enough outside time. In fact, it seems like we adults can sometimes have a harder time finding motivation to get outside than our children. I have found, however, that there have been some things that have helped my family in our efforts to get outside more:
- Choose to bike and walk when possible. Though we live too far from my children’s school to bike (and lack a route that is safe), we have made more effort to walk and bike when possible. We only live a little over a mile from a movie theater, so we have been trying to walk or bike when we see a movie instead of hopping into the car. We also try to ride our bikes to the park and to church when I have my act together.
- Make sure that you have the right clothing and gear. There is a saying that says, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” Having the right kind of clothing for weather can make all the difference in the world of making outside play a positive experience. Because nice outside gear can often times be expensive, look for used clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops if this is a concern for you. Another way to cut down the cost is to buy gender neutral clothing so that you can pass clothing down between brothers and sisters.
- Find kid friendly hikes and other outdoor activities in your area. With most of us being connected to social media these days, it would be very easy to pose a question to find out the best local spots nearby. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to walk the short boardwalk loop at Jackson Frazier Wetlands. If the weather is particularly bad, this short loop does not take very long and even toddlers can walk it.
- Make outside time a part of the routine so it just feels normal. I have thought about setting a rule that media use does not happen that day unless my children have first been outside breathing fresh air. Limiting media use in general can also leave more time and motivation to get outside.
- Let your children participate in gardening. My kids love spending time in the garden and take so much pride when they have actually helped to plant and nourish the food that then nourishes our bodies. And as an extra bonus, my children are more likely to eat food from our garden than they are store bought food.
- Enjoy outdoor activities with other friends and family. I have found that my children are far less likely to whine or complain about going outside in the cold when they have other kids to run around with.
- Listen to your children and follow their leads on what they like to do outside. Children are going to feel more excited about spending time outside if they have input on what the activity is. Some children might enjoy the challenge of geocaching or having a bird guide with them while they walk so they can identify the wildlife around them.
- Slow down. Sometimes during the school year it can be hard to even find the time to get our kids outside when we are running children around from one activity to another. Make sure that no matter what activities your child does, they still have some time left for free play and spending time in nature.
- If you live in the Willamette Valley, make sure to attend “Get Outdoors Day” each year. We went as a family for the first time this year, and my children were so happy exploring and participating in all of the activities for hours
Some of my best family memories from my own childhood and with my own family have been enjoying nature together. We would love to hear what you love to do with your families outdoors and how you make exploring nature a priority!