No Child Left Inside: Encouraging Kids to Play Outside

by Mark J. Stevens
www.luisasnature.com

Getting out and moving around is a great way for both adults and children to get or stay healthy. Children not only discover nature’s wonders in a unique way during each outing, but it is also a great way for them to avoid obesity and ailments, which derive from lack of movement. Instead of grabbing the next bag of chips and watching excessive TV, your kids will quickly get in the habit of wanting to get out and make things happen in the lap of nature. They might just have so much fun doing so that they’ll want to show their kids the great outdoors one day.

How can parents make it more interesting for their kids to get out and get active?

Lead by example: If you are truly interested in the outdoors, then half the battle is won. Just be yourself, get out, and enjoy nature. Children will sense your enjoyment and will soon follow. Pretty soon, your children will be pulling YOU off the couch to jog on the moss-bedded forest path, jump from rock to rock along the stream, or simply look and listen to the sights and sounds of the surroundings while taking the daily family walk.

Make reading children’s books about nature exploration part of your regular reading routine to your children. Let your child choose his or her favorite book character – be it a boy, girl, or animal. Discuss that character’s discoveries in nature and compare them to those you and your child make. If the character made certain discoveries that you can realistically see or do in nature near you, make that your goal on your next expedition. Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and friends set out in the Hundred Acre Woods to find the North Pole. The pole turned out being a long branch that they loudly exclaimed to be the North Pole.

In other words, your goals or discussions in nature don’t always have to be too serious or scientific. It’s about having fun and bonding. The stories you read and the goals you set before you take your walks give you and your child the possibility to talk about your expectations before leaving home and discoveries while in nature. They give you something to refer to during your walks or swims – even something to be silly about, laugh about.

Sitting at the dinner table can sometimes be boring for a kid. But if you start talking about the color of a flower you saw with your children or the height of the grass in a meadow that they barely found their way through, a visual world opens in front of their very eyes and they get hungry to discover more. As much as possible, let your children tell the story about what they saw in nature. You can fill in some of the gaps. There will be lots of gaps still remaining, though. It is exactly those gaps you can discuss filling on your next walk. For example what color exactly was that lichen on the tree or the fuzzy bumblebee?

Offer habit and variety: Children love ritual. So do take those walks along the same path. But also offer variety. Take a bike ride on a new path, go for a swim in a different lake, or ride a pony with your children. Your children will continue to feel the warmth of the better-known “home” path. But an occasional change of pace will help expand their horizons and wake their curiosity even more.

Include other children: Bring the neighbors’ kids along. Children usually love their parents. But when children see that other children are also interested in climbing trees in the woods and playing hide-and-seek in the yard, they will be that much more motivated to get out. Inspire them to do whatever most interests them.

About the author:
Mark Stevens, author of Luisa's Nature (Wyatt MacKenzie Publishing, Spring 2008), is a journalist for Crain's Automotive News Europe. Fluent in French, Spanish and German, Mark has enjoyed extensive world travel throughout much of his life. Shaped by the rural New Jersey setting of his youth, Mark continues to explore the richness of nature with his wife and two children on the outskirts of Munich, Germany. For more information visit www.luisasnature.com.