In today's fast-paced digital world where our kids are wanting to spend more and more time inside watching TV, playing video games, and messing around on smartphones/tablets, it can be a challenge to raise youth that are interested in the outdoors. If you're a parent or grandparent struggling with how to entice your kids to get outside and then keep them outside, here's some practical tips we've found success using with our own children and others that attend DIRO activities.
This may sound obvious but putting it to practice is often difficult. It's extremely important though. If kids, especially young kids, are not having fun, you will not have fun either and the likelihood they will want to do it again is small. I've caught myself many times getting too serious about teaching kids something, making sure they are doing things "right", or pushing to get through my agenda regardless of what's going on. I've gotten better at recognizing when things are not going well and adjusting my approach. Most of the time, a healthy dose of silliness and fun brings even the most disengaged back. Here's a few of my go-to strategies:
Most children don't appreciate the tranquility of being out in nature like adults do. They want to explore, experience new things, and learn something they can tell their friends about. However, it's may not be the same things you find interesting or want to learn about. If you want lifelong adventurers, you need to make it interesting to them and have faith that at some point, they'll find what you enjoy interesting too. Often times kids will just migrate to something they find interesting and you just have to allow time for them to investigate it and ask questions. Other times injecting a few props may spur new interests:
When out in the wilderness, it's important to keep kids safe and not get lost. That responsibility truly rides on the adults present. However, it doesn't mean they need to lead the entire time. Children love to pick the trail to explore, where to paddle, where to snowshoe, etc. Let them! For many, including myself, this is challenging sometimes because we have a set schedule or plan of how the day will go. Stopping every fifteen minutes to look under rocks or smell flowers throws that plan off, and can get frustrating. To help avoid this, always allow extra time and remember it's the journey, rather than the destination, that is important. Not only will you help children learn to love to explore, but you'll help foster their leadership abilities too.
In the past, there wasn't very much child specific gear. Now there is more and more available. This doesn't mean you need to spend a ton of money on high-end expensive stuff but going the extra mile to make sure kids are comfortable will go a long way to their enjoyment of the outdoors. There's nothing like a cold and wet kid to put a damper on a day hike. Here's a few recommendations:
As you're out and about point out how cool it is that they are doing it because it is! Positivity can go along way to making the experience a great one and one to remember. Even in challenging situations try to find the positive and reinforce it:
Letting your children bring a friend will enhance their experience. You may be the funniest, most interesting, cool adult in your kid's life but there's nothing like letting kids explore and have fun with other kids. Invite their friends, cousins, and neighbors and let them roam. If this sounds overwhelming to you, invite their parents as well.
Undoubtedly, you will out exploring and hear the dreaded, "I'm tired." This can quickly escalate into lots of whining and not much fun for anyone. To minimize this have a plan to bring the pep back into their step. Sometimes it just takes a quick break and a snack. Other times it takes a more creative approach. I've found using goofy marching chants works wonders. The key is to get the kids involved and to have fun. It takes their mind of being tired and lets them be silly. Maybe the military has something here. Mine goes something like this and has saved me countless times (even with teenagers):
Let your children experience lots of different things to do outside. Remember that just because you like it doesn't mean they will. Giving them the opportunity to try different things will help them "find their outer space".
The more kids get outside, the more they'll want to get outside. Take time to get outside at least weekly even if it's just the backyard. You may have to put rules around screen time to help the transition happen. Additionally, you may need to help them figure out what to do but after a few times they can usually get creative on their own and with their friends. Just make sure you make it consistent and intentional.
Further promote the outdoors by suggesting adventurous activities for friend or birthday parties, summer fun days, and family gatherings. These can be as simple as throwing a ball around the yard or more elaborate like a kayaking birthday party. Mix it up and have fun with it.
There are countless benefits for children to play outside. Anything you can do to help them learn to enjoy being out in nature will have huge wins as they meander through life. It will also have benefits for our society as they will learn the importance of protecting green spaces for them and their future families to enjoy. Keep it simple. Keep it fun. Let them explore!