A nationwide poll indicated that a meager 10 percent of kids in the U.S. spend time outdoors daily. Poor health and social skills, lack of creativity, dependence upon electronics, and a disconnect from nature. When it comes to the great outdoors, a poll of 602 kids between the ages of 13 and 18 revealed that 80 percent of the children were adverse to time outside due to hot temperatures and bugs, 62 percent said they didn’t have transportation to natural areas, and 61 percent don’t even live near a natural area.
While it’s true that not everyone lives near a lush forest preserve or natural park, active outdoor exploration can be as close as your backyard or local park. Take steps to encourage your kids to see what the world has to offer beyond the four walls of your home.
No matter where you live, spending time outdoors requires protection from the elements. Make sure everyone (yourself included) applies sunscreen to exposed skin — even in the winter — to prevent burning and premature sun damage. Sunglasses and a hat are also a good idea. If you are going in a heavily wooded or green space, pants and long-sleeve shirts (of a lighter material if it’s the summer) are in favor of short-sleeves and shorts in case you brush up against a rash-inducing plant like poison ivy and phytophotodermatitis. Avoid wearing sandals or any form of an open-toe shoe — heavy-duty footwear such as hiking boots are best.
Tics are generally found in wooded or grassy areas and present a threat of Lyme disease through contact. Bites can turn into Lyme disease, a condition that causes fever, headache, fatigue, and a rash. Along with avoiding vegetation and tall grass when walking outdoors, use a repellant that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 for protection that lasts for several hours.
Outdoor Exploration Ideas
- Bird Watching: No matter where you live — even in the city — there’s at least a few bird species flying around. According to Redfin, “There are all kinds of advantages to becoming a birder, both for your child and the pair of you. To start, it’s an opportunity to learn about your immediate environment: exactly what kinds of birds live there, the kinds of habitats they live in, why your area’s climate is ideal for them, and how different birds have adapted to human presence.” While you want to keep electronics to a minimum while enjoying the great outdoors, there are several helpful bird watching apps that can serve as valuable tools when detecting specific species and their applicable habits and traits.
- Planting A Garden: Along with being an outdoor activity, gardening provides an educational experience by teaching kids how to follow rules, take care of something, and the importance of engaging in a green practice that’s good for the environment. If growing edible, your kids can enjoy the fruits of their labor while infusing nutrition into their diets.
- Leaf Identification: Be it a national park or the local one down the street, leaf identification is a hands-on way to learn about what trees grow in your area. Start by collecting different leaves while on a hike or walk. Take the opportunity to observe the trees around you — from the style of bark and branches to any other unique characteristics. Next, use a leaf identification chart to determine which leaves are associated with each tree.
If you’re really having a hard time getting kids outside, try making a game out of it. For example, count the insects you observe on a walk. Either snap a photo of them or temporarily — just long enough to observe them. Head to the park or forest preserve — even the backyard — and play a nature-themed version of “I spy” to see what natural elements your kids can observe in one setting.