5 Benefits of Connecting with Kids Outdoors
Connecting with the kids in your life can be tough these days. You’re competing with busy school schedules, back-to-back activities, and an onslaught of technology. But there are long-ranging benefits to creating this connection and there are unique opportunities to do so in the outdoors.
We don’t have kids of our own but we have a slew of nieces and nephews (currently ranging in age from 7 to 26). We’ve used getting outdoors to connect with each of them over the years. From outdoor recreation like archery, fishing, boating, shooting sports, and hunting to more low key activities like nature hikes, gardening, and messy outdoor craft projects we’ve noticed the following:
Helping kids understand and enjoy the benefits of activity and movement in nature creates life-long healthy habits around movement and exercise. Activites we pick up as kids frequently remain important to us into adulthood.
If you and/or your kids are super outdoorsy this is easy for you. Many of your activities may just naturally occur outdoors. My dad was this way with me – everything we did was an outdoor activity because that was his nature. We rode bikes; golfed; boated; fished; trained dogs; went sledding every time it snowed; swam in summer; built things in the shop; played tennis; and tended horses, cows, and chickens. That’s a lot of physical activity. Every day! And none of it felt like drudgery.
And, yet, engaging in outdoor activity doesn’t have to be intense. Taking a walk in your neighborhood, playing at a local park, working in your family garden, or weeding a flower bed for a neighbor are all great ways to get outdoors and connect with the physical world without the need for a bunch of gear.
Mental / Emotional
Most studies agree that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. Nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide.
Also, in natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue. Research supports that being in nature creates electrochemical changes in the brain that can lead people to enter this highly beneficial state of “effortless attention.”
I mentioned gardening as a way to get outdoors and connect with kids and, planting and tending a garden (even if it’s a container garden on your patio) can help you teach your kids about how our food is grown and our connection with the earth. Kids are also likely to eat what they’ve grown themselves helping to boost the nutrition in their diet. Most important, the self-esteem a child gets from eating a perfect cucumber that he grew himself is priceless.
Also, kids LOVE to get their hands and feet in the dirt. This desire can run counter to the modern parenting style of compulsively keeping hands and surfaces cleaned and sanitized. However, consider the “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory that a lack of childhood exposure to germs actually increases a child’s susceptibility to diseases like asthma, allergies and autoimmune conditions by suppressing the development of the immune system.
Green over screen
If the kids in your life are really into technology, use that to your advantage and utilize technology to teach about and document your outdoor experience.
Have your kids take pictures of the things they find along your hike. Help them edit the pictures they love and let them post them to your family’s social media accounts or text them to grandma/grandpa. An opportunity to teach responsible posting habits is a nice side-effect!
Or, help your kids use technology to learn more about an outdoor adventure they’re really interested in trying. Let them use the Internet to research ideas and find blogs or books to read on the topic. They can find locations or businesses that offer the equipment and/or expertise to support their adventure. And, they can plan out the trip and map your route. You could even engage their math skills by having them calculate mileage and gas cost.
Being in nature with your kids is a great time to open the lines of communication and deepen your relationship. Play allows for communication in a low pressure and low-risk way. A scavenger hunt or simple game of “I spy” can give you insight into your kid’s interests and perspective. The conversation doesn’t have to be deep (although sometimes your kids will go there!) to be meaningful and create a connection. You may be surprised where simple questions take you once your kid has relaxed into nature. Listening to what your kids talk about – topics of interest, HOW they say it, and verbal and nonverbal cues – will give you great insight into what’s going on in their lives and in their hearts.
You Get to Relive Your Childhood
Put on your “kid glasses”. See the world the way a kid sees it. Being in nature with your kids is a unique opportunity for you to rediscover the wonder you had as a child. Play. Be curious. Find out what’s around the next bend of the trail. You’ll start to see and understand a world most adults have forgotten.
“Beyond the health and cognitive benefits children may gain from free and unstructured play outdoors, nature also provides them with a sense of wonder and a deeper understanding of our responsibility to take care of the Earth.”
Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit-Disorder”
In this electronic age, kids need time for meaningful connection. Time together in nature promotes team building and communication skills. Planning a garden, planting the seeds and watching them grow gives kids a sense of purpose and responsibility. Being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, enjoying each step of a hike, fosters mindfulness. And, the concepts learned while camping, fishing, or hunting can show kids a deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet. You can help the kids in your life to become well rounded, responsible, and curious adults by engaging with them outdoors. There’s a whole, big world out there to explore!
‘Til next time…