Across many parts of the country, spring is in full throttle. For my neck of the woods, that means that the pollen count is through the roof and allergies are also in major swing. To clear my head and my mind, I’ve been daydreaming about the summer days that soon await. When I was growing up, summer break always meant long days spent outside. My siblings, cousins and I would play on the tire swing by the creek for hours, then explore the woods until our moms called us in for dinner.
To me, the summer meant days digging my toes into the sand, or jumping off the high dive at the community pool. If I was indoors, I had my nose in a book and even then, I’d rather read out on the screened in porch, where the warm wind could wind itself around my ankles. Now? Studies show that children today spend only half the time outdoors that their parents did growing up. The Digital Era has brought many innovations and enabled us to make leaps forward in myriad fields including technology and healthcare, it’s come at a price. With so much emphasis on content that can be devoured through a screen, it leaves no impetus to head outside.
Why should our children brave the heat when they can stay comfortably indoors this summer, engrossed in the cartoon they streamed from their tablet? It’s a tempting proposition, but the answer is simple. Teaching our children to love and appreciate nature is vital to creating a new generation interested in protecting and preserving it.
Let’s use this summer as an opportunity to put the smartphones down for a little bit and simply go outside, bringing our kids along with us. Not sure what to do or where to go? Here are five simple options.
1. Go on a nature walk.
This first one can be as elaborate or simple as you want to make it. Depending on where you live, consider if your backyard or nearby natural areas offer any safe, interesting spots to explore. We have a field and creek behind our house and we recently discovered an old farm trail created by our neighbor farmer decades ago. The trail leads back from our woods and down to the creek, where it travels alongside the water for about half a mile. We’ve taken picnic blankets and sandwiches down there on more than one occasion and just made an afternoon of it.
As you stroll, be sure to point out anything peculiar, fascinating or especially beautiful you see along the way. You can even make a game out of it and make a scavenger hunt list before you set out. The first person to spot three different colors of flowers gets the last piece of dessert!
2. Take a moment to just observe.
Parents can tend to overthink and over-plan every encounter with their kids, seeking to turn every experience into a teachable moment. While there’s certainly a benefit to this, another simple exercise is to just go outdoors and sit in the silence, taking note of every sound, sight, smell and sensation that nature has to offer. Older kids can keep track of their observations on a sheet of paper, if they’d like, but there won’t be any test at the end of this experience. Rather, the end goal is to awaken their senses and reveal to them that when they really stop and ponder the outdoors, amazing things will begin to be revealed. That bird you saw walking along the ground a few minutes ago? She’s now feeding a worm to her babies. That frog you thought hopped away is now back at the edge of the creek. These are things we can miss when we’re rushing and can only appreciate when we’re really watching.
3. Go on a bike ride.
Kids of all ages love the thrill of a great bike ride. Whether you’re pulling a newborn on the back of your adult bike, chauffeuring toddlers zooming about on scooters, or leading a pack of teens on a mountain biking excursion, the basic concept is the same. Bikes are downright fun to ride, and they allow you to experience nature at an entirely different pace.
Of course, this is one of those activities that requires keen parental guidance at all times. Make sure that everyone is wearing a helmet and all other protective gear and that water is readily accessible at all times. If you’re cycling on rugged terrain or even on rural country roads, which can be uneven and unexpectedly populated at times, it’s important to follow critical cycling safety guidelines. Especially if you’re biking with little ones, be sure to schedule time for plenty of breaks and make sure you’re never too far from a bathroom.
4. Check out the stars.
Summer constellations are some of the most beautiful of the entire year and nothing thrills children more than staying up past their bedtime for a little bit of star-gazing. Check with your local observatory to see if they offer any public nighttime viewing events, as many will set them up once the nights become warmer. Once you visit your observatory once and know what to look for, head out on your own and bring the kids along.
Go somewhere far enough away from the city lights to get an unobstructed, clear view of the night sky. Pack along a few snacks and a few pairs of binoculars for an evening they won’t soon forget. Talk to your children about the wonders of the universe and invite them to count the stars with you!
5. Restore a local outdoor space.
Chances are, there’s at least one locale you can think of immediately in your hometown that needs a little sprucing up. From the lackluster landscaping at the local bank to the elementary school playground overgrown with weeds, there are likely plenty of spaces that could use some restoration. Seek out these spots with your kids and volunteer to take on the task as a family project. Doing so doesn’t just teach a lesson on taking care of the environment. It also instills virtues of teamwork, dedication and respect (both for property and for others). You’ll also help establish a sense of community pride in your children and that’s critical to ensuring they do their part in the future to keep it thriving.
An Important Lesson: Teaching the Value of the Outdoors
These five tips to go show that you don’t have to plan elaborate outdoor excursions for your children to benefit from all that nature has to offer. Just getting away from the television, phone or table for a little while is a healthy way to disconnect, de-stress and discover new things. So as the weather warms and the seasons switch, remember that there’s no time like the present to build a foundation for the future, and the more you reveal to your children the glory and importance of nature, the more likely they’ll be to honor that legacy as they grow.