Today, in the 21st century, it can be difficult to raise adventurous, outdoor kids. With video games and smartphones, many kids are reluctant to look at anything that is beyond a screen. Where once upon a time, children enjoyed having outdoor experiences away from home, they are now more inclined to take part in experiences that are directly geared around a wifi connection. This is frustrating for any parent who wants to encourage healthy living within the family.
Many children also don’t see the benefits of being outdoors. They may lack the ability of imaginative play or find being outdoors much less exciting (and rather boring) than interacting with their phones or video games. If you are like 90% of parents struggling to disconnect your children from their phones while trying to connect them to the outdoors, know that you aren’t alone. Hopefully the suggestions listed here can help you get your kids outside and immersed in the outdoors!
1. Allow your children input on outdoor activities
If you want your children to be outdoor kids, you need to ask them what they’d like to do outside! If you end up forcing your children to go outside or take part in outdoor activities, your plan can backfire, completely keeping them away from nature at all. Imposing your own ideas on your kids is never a good idea. Going for a family hike up a mountain or overnight camping may not be your child’s idea of a good time. If you really want to get your kids outdoors, ask them to suggest ideas of their own. While their ideas may not always be practical or within your budget, you can still compromise. Parents can even start small, like taking a walk to get ice cream, riding bikes to a lake or pool, or watching an outdoor concert. Little by little you should be able to increase the time you spend outdoors as a family. If you keep the kids involved in the decision-making process, they will be happy doing what they want while we parents indirectly showcase the benefits of being outdoors.
2. Look for camping alternatives
A great way to get your kids outdoors is to take a camping vacation. Most kids will be enamored with the idea of campfire songs, s’mores, and stargazing, but not all. Especially if you have kids that are reluctant to camp, you want to make sure they are comfortable: pack plenty of bug spray, have a clean tent, cook delicious food, and have a comfortable sleeping setup.
If your children are completely averse to anything involving camping, dirt, and/or sleeping outside, don’t give up hope. There are alternative ways to go camping other than sleeping in a tent. A few alternatives include:
- renting an RV or camping trailer
- looking into preowned boat auctions for amphibious trailers where you can camp on the water
- making reservations at a campground that offers more amenities (like canvas tents, running water, and flushable toilets) than a rustic campsite with pit toilets and no clean water
- finding a treehouse to rent
- finding a campground or park with a cabin that you can stay in
- staying in a yurt for the night
We parents have to think a bit out of the box in order to find accommodations for kids that don’t enjoy the traditional camping experience. If nothing else, you can always set up the tent in the backyard and try getting the kids to sleep outdoors for the night. By doing this, your kids should be comfortable knowing they can go inside and sleep in their bed if they find they don’t enjoy it; but be patient, as it might take 2-3 times before some children finally become comfortable enough to sleep through the night outside.
3. Check out the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program
As someone who was not an outdoor kid (and didn’t realize what I missed out on until I was an adult), I made sure my children were exposed to nature at a young age. When I traveled to national parks with them as young children, I introduced them to the Junior Ranger Program. This is a special program that’s present in almost every US National Park, National Monument, historical sites, and recreational areas. Through this program, kids are encouraged to get outside, explore nature, learn about the environment, and appreciate our National Parks. Children aged 5-12 can become Junior Park Rangers, earning a special pin and designation as steward of the environment.
Most children enjoying working towards a goal or reward, and this program may provide them with that extra incentive – receiving the Junior Ranger pin. Young children may look up to and admire the park rangers, which may make them more focused and interested in nature. Wearing this special Junior Ranger badge was a big deal for my kids. It won’t work for all kids, but sometimes a little extra incentive is worth a try. For more on the Junior Ranger program, check out my previous post here.
4. Introduce kids to outdoor related apps
If your kids just can’t get away from their smartphones, have them check out these apps that focus on the outdoors. These nature apps will encourage kids to explore the outdoors without having to put down their phones and tablets. From outdoor experiments to bird watching, these downloadable apps will engage your children with nature, hopefully finding some kind of connection to the outdoors.
With the interactivity of smartphones/tablets/video games compounded with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be difficult to get our kids to find joy in being outside. Transitioning your children from being indoor kids to outdoor kids will take some time. Hopefully, if you start integrating outdoor play while they’re young, they will continue to enjoy the joys of the outdoors, long after their childhood years have passed.
What ideas or activities have you come up with to get your kids outside? Let me know in the comments!
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