How to Raise Your Child to Love the Outdoors

In recent years, probably coinciding with the rising popularity of all things digital - internet, cable television, and mobile devices, it seems that parenting has moved indoors. For adults who had the good fortune to grow up playing in creeks, lying their back in a field and looking for cloud shapes, or just meandering through a forest, it seems that modern childhood has lost something of great value.

How long has it been since your child chased a butterfly or built a fort in the backyard from which to repel all manner of imaginary invaders? If the idea of getting the little ones outside more often seems like an insurmountable obstacle, here are some ways to teach your child to love the outdoors.

The Reality of the Disparity​

By some estimates, children spend about eight hours daily with electronics and less than half an hour outside. The task is not impossible, but it will take genuine effort to change the trend. You’ll be bucking what has been established as the status quo, and that’s never easy. Perhaps your best hope for success is to make small changes in routine that result in more time spent outside, hope they enjoy the wondrous synergy that can exist between humans and nature, and build on that.​

How to Raise Your Child to Love the Outdoor

If you find yourself exercising too much of the totalitarian parenting style, read this has a wonderful take on the idea of free-range parenting, and the great outdoors is the perfect place to practice.

​Take the Indoors Outside

​To some extent, you should be able to give your to-do list an outdoors flair. Yes, you have to feed the little ones lunch, but there’s no law that says it must be eaten in the dining room or in front of the television. Pack a picnic lunch and make the fifteen second trek to the great outdoors in your own backyard. For the truly adventurous, head for a nearby park. Done right, kids appreciate this change in routine and will start to ask when the next picnic lunch is.

If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, have everyone, including yourself, turn off all electronics - including smartphones - for the duration of the meal. This practice teaches youngsters and adults that you can, indeed, survive for short periods of time without being “plugged in.”

Examine the Details​

There are so many wondrous, amazing, and startling things to see in nature. Most of us will never slow down long enough to watch the wildlife in and around a bubbling brook or observe a blue jay hard at work annoying a cat, or get down on hands and knees to study a set of tracks in the dirt. While all-out sprints and shrieking and tumbling in the grass are part of the reason you want to get your kids outside in the first place, nature is also the perfect forum to slow down, sit down, and thoughtfully examine the intricate details that exist.​

​Turn Into a Hunter-Gatherer

How to Raise Your Child to Love the Outdoors 2

There is a certain amount of inherent wonder and sense of accomplishment in going into the wild and coming back with something for the table. We’re not suggesting you must slaughter and field-dress a deer in the deep woods, then hike out with a backpack of bloody meat. That extreme isn’t necessary. There are less gory ways to proceed. Depending upon where in the geographical world of nature you live, hit a nearby stream for fishing, gather wild mushrooms (stay away from the psychedelics), or put in a small garden.

Nothing piques a child’s sense of wonder like watching a plant they put in the ground deliver the goods in the form of a scrumptious tomato or cucumber or zucchini. Keep in mind that you don’t need a spare acre of land for gardening. There are inventive ways to grow plants in small spaces. All you really need is a plastic tub and corner on the back deck or front porch.​

Use Technology “Against” Them​

Perhaps the most clever way to inculcate outdoors loving kids is to make those smart phones they love so much part of the mix. Nature photography isn’t just for professionals. Give the idea of shooting wildlife a whole new meaning as you learn the basics of taking beautiful pictures together.

Once you get back to the house, take the time to study the pictures for things that may have been hiding in plain sight. There are hundreds of online forums for sharing and commenting on wildlife pictures. Get the kiddos interested in showing off their work, even if it’s just to email the best pictures to a friend or grandparent.​

The Bottom Line​

​Teaching kids to love the outdoors shouldn’t be a traumatic experience for either you or the little ones. The first thing to lodge in your noggin is that this is indeed a worthwhile pursuit, and that time spent outside is a benefit to their overall development as well-rounded citizens of the world. They may grow up to be the most sophisticated urbanites you can imagine but, at least, they will have known what it feels like to shuck their shoes, roll up their pants legs, and walk barefoot through a creek.

As a parent, you owe your children the chance to develop an interest in nature. Who knows where it may lead? You might plant a tiny seed - literally or figuratively - that turns out to be a life-changing experience. Our final advice is to start small. There’s not need to make your first task a two-week primitive camping trip in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Start small, with some of the ideas presented here - and good luck!

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