This post is contributed by Jess Spate. Jess is a long-distance hiker and rock climber, and part of a family that loves the outdoors. She works for Appalachian Outdoors (where you can find a good selection of kids outdoor gear, and edits a British outdoor clothing site.
Kids that enjoy the great outdoors tend to be more active than those who don’t. It’s easier to teach children about respecting the environment and the creatures that live in it if they’re already interested, and activities like hiking will be something the family can still do together as children turn into teenagers. Getting kids to love nature is good for them in more ways than one, so here are five good ways to introduce young children to the outdoor:
1. Have a picnic.
It may sound simple, but spending a lazy Saturday in the woods or on the beach is a very effective way to help your kids associate having fun with being outside. Take along games (just a ball or a Frisbee will do) and some nice food, and relax. It doesn’t matter how young your children are, they can still enjoy being somewhere beautiful.
2. Go wildlife-spotting.
Kids and animals always go well together, and nothing is more exciting than seeing a strange new animal. Do a little research and find out what lives in your state. No matter where you live there will be something interesting nearby- it might be a bald eagle, a deer, or even a bear or an alligator. If you’re lucky enough to live near a place like Yosemite National Park or the Florida Everglades, get down there!
3. Give your child a magnifying glass.
A simple, cheap magnifying glass can let kids (and grown-ups) access a whole new world. Suddenly, everything from the veins on a leaf to a handful of sand can look a whole lot more interesting. For older children, a cheap and simple camera can fulfil the same function and encourage them to look a little closer at the nature around them. Let them take their view-finder to the park or on a gentle hike.
4. Have goals.
Achieving a goal brings a valuable self-esteem boost, and facing a challenge as a family is a terrific bonding experience. Choose a goal suitable for your child’s age- it might be walking up to the top of a local hill, for example- and talk about it well in advance. By demonstrating your own interest you’ll teach the kids that it’s something worth getting excited about.
When you start hiking with children, don’t overdo it. They get tired easily and one bad experience can put them off the whole idea. The trick is to begin with very short distances and work your way up. Take plenty of drinks and high-energy snacks, and make sure the terrain isn’t too steep. Half a mile over rocky, difficult terrain is much harder than two miles on a nice flat path.
5. Make sure your kids learn to swim.
Children who can’t swim miss out on fun summertime activities like swimming at the local pool, and they’ll also be a lot less safe around creeks and rivers and at the beach. Of course, knowing that your kids are comfortable and competent around deep water also gives any parent one less thing to worry about.
Learning to swim is the first step towards enjoying outdoor sports like canoeing, sailing, surfing, and snorkelling. Let them know that as soon as they can swim well, you’ll offer a reward like a day kayaking on a local river or a trip to the coast. That way they’ll see that hard work pays off and learn to love our beautiful waters at the same time.
Photo Credit: Paul Schultz