Make it a Goal to Get Your Kids out in Nature

girl playing outdoorsIs your kid morphing into a couch potato? And do you find yourself perplexed at how to encourage her to be more active? You notice that sometimes she seems tired and sluggish so you hate to insist that she go outside and play. Or she spends a large amount of her inside time reading, and we all know that reading is a good thing, right?

Well, statistics show that being outdoors has numerous benefits. And even if your child finds contentment curled up in the corner with a good book, there’s a strong case for getting her out into the great outdoors.

One of the biggest benefits of playing outside is an improvement in your child’s health. This quote from the National Wildlife Federation is startling: Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled the last 20 years; the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world; and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen precipitously. Wow. Now there’s an incentive to get outside and start exploring nature.

It makes sense that being active is essential to a child’s wellbeing. But what if your child gets home from school and heads downstairs to play ping pong? He’s being active and isn’t that good for him? Well, I guess the simple answer is yes. Playing ping pong beats sitting in front of a video screen any day.

But the benefits of being active outdoors trumps being active indoors. Outdoor activities mean your child’s intake of Vitamin D is boosted, leading to better bones and teeth, along with a host of other health benefits. There are studies that support the fact that reduced rates of nearsightedness have been associated with spending time playing and exploring outdoors. In addition, your child’s motor skills, agility and balance will all take a boost from playing outside.

Besides the numerous health benefits of being active outdoors, there are many other boons to leading an outdoor centric life. According to a 2003 paper written by psychologist, William Crain, a child’s sense of observation and creativity are developed by spending time in the outdoors. As your child becomes more comfortable and experienced in the outdoors his sense of independence will become more developed, as well.

The emotional benefits of being outdoors are huge. Life assumes balance and stress is released. Being in nature allows people- kids included- to recharge depleted stores of energy and positive feelings. Social behavior is improved by spending time outdoors and cognitive skills are tweaked by being in such an active learning environment. There are also studies showing how creativity is boosted by spending time outdoors. You can read a great post about it on Some Call Me Beth.

According to Richard Louv, author of the best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods”, it is vital to reconnect our children with nature. He has coined the term, “nature-deficit disorder” and uses it to explain the lack of direct experiences with nature for many children today.

Since we know there are many benefits to leading an active outdoor life, it’s important to help your child become a child of nature. Here are a couple of suggestions to help make this happen in your family.

  • As an adult role model it’s important that you exhibit an enthusiasm and respect for nature. If you are constantly telling your kids to go outside and play while you hunker down indoors your children may decide they’d rather stay indoors, too.
  • Leave some areas of your yard “wild”. Let the grass in a corner under the trees get long and leggy. It’s a perfect place for your kids to dig around in the tall grass and find rocks and insects. Fill a bird bath with water in an area that allows good observation. Collect twigs and small branches that have blown from your trees and set them aside for future exploration. These are just a few ways you can “wild” up your yard and make it more inviting to inquisitive little minds.
  • Plant a garden with your child. You don’t have to have a large yard to do this since container gardens can produce the same opportunities for experiencing the joy of digging in the dirt as a half-acre field.
  • Plan regular walks to a near-by park with your child. And don’t forget that half the journey is getting there. In other words don’t overlook the awesome butterfly hovering in the neighbor’s yard because you are so focused on trying to think of things to do at the park.

I’m sure once you read these few ideas you will come up with many of your own. The important thing with this is to allow your child to see how truly wonderful and amazing nature is. If you treat nature as a special gift your child will have endless joy opening it.

Here’s to a week filled with nature encounters for you and your family.

Cathie

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