Give this some thought: How much time do your kids spend playing outside? When you make a list, it probably doesn’t add up to very many hours a week, especially when the schedule is crowded with activities and work schedules. But then, just consider the fact that it’s no longer considered OK to let kids just be outdoors all day, having free rein over neighborhoods and parks until Mom calls them in for the night.
Researchers say being outdoors reduces stress and cultivates that active, vigorous play kids need. If you want to help the kids become more outdoor oriented, try these tips to build deeper connections.
Go geocaching: Show of hands: How many have kids who would jump at the chance for an afternoon of hiking or biking? Some kids do great, but all too many would start piping up with protestations of starvation and heat exhaustion and fatal boredom in, oh, five minutes, tops.
What if you could go on a hike with a prize at the end?
That’s the promise of geocaching. All you need is a GPS-equipped smartphone, an inexpensive trinket to leave at the cache site and a pencil to sign your family name in the log. (Just in case the cache doesn’t live up to its promise, it’s a good idea to keep a secret prize up your sleeve — literally!) Kids can help with navigation and use their creative touches to log the entry. When it’s done, they may even build a soul connection to some interesting natural and cultural resource right in your community. Learning the value of these local treasures early on makes for good stewardship later.
Build something: A surefire way to build a meaningful connection to the outdoors is to literally build something physical that helps local wildlife. Homemade birdhouses, birdbaths and bird feeders are the classic examples. But how about a toad house in the garden? Add a water source and watch and wait for one of these creatures to move in. Did you know that bats can eat their weight in mosquitoes? Together, build or assemble a bat house for your yard and learn more about these helpful mammals. Or, devote a section of your yard to native plants, and keep an eye out for the beneficial insects and other wildlife these attract.
Just hang out: Sometimes, setting the example can go a long way. Build some open-ended time outdoors into the family routine and see what happens. Fire up the grill, and set up a couple of comfy chairs so the adults can relax while the kids play. While you’re waiting at an older child’s soccer practice, skip the playground or the tablet stocked with movies and games and let the little ones explore a new corner of the park, rolling down hills, discovering shapes in the clouds and letting tickley insects crawl on their arms and legs.