The great outdoors does more than just provide a backdrop of wondrous beauty. Being outside can improve both mental and physical health. Instill a love of the big wide world in your children and they will more likely to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle throughout adulthood.
Here are some tips to get even the most video-game obsessed kid off the couch and onto the grass:
Take them hiking. Hiking is a great American pastime that doubles as a hobby and exercise. When hiking with children, make sure to pick the right trail. You can start by looking for paved walkways with gentle, if any, incline, and a mile or two in length. If your kids are preschool aged, stick with parks and trails close to home. Teens and tweens can handle longer excursions, especially if you’re willing to start early before it gets too hot and crowded. BuzzFeed offers more tips on hiking with kids.
Give them plenty of backyard activities. If you’d rather stick closer to home, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore nature right outside your back door. If you have the space, a backyard swing set can offer years of fun and activity for your growing child. Avoid the temptation to grab the first structure that catches your attention as not all swing sets are created equal. Choose your swing set wisely and make sure to check out reviews and prices online before you make a commitment.
Another fun activity you can do with kids as young as 2 is create a backyard scavenger hunt. This will encourage them to take a closer look at bugs, twigs and flowers and help them understand how nature works. You can also get them involved in geological exploration. Learning geology is a fun way for kids to learn about their surroundings. According to HomeAdvisor, “It helps them understand basic concepts (like observation, examination, and cause and effect) in a more tangible way. They get to become scientists anytime they step into the backyard, and will likely become more observant of their surroundings in general.”
Sign them up for team sports. Team sports, such as outdoor hockey, soccer and baseball, may not have a lot to do with Mother Nature, but they do acclimate your child to being outside in all types of weather. This age-by-age guide by SheKnows can help you pick a sport no matter your child’s age or stage of development.
Go camping. Camping is fun for the entire family and provides you the opportunity to unplug and step away from the electronic leash we carry in our pockets. Even if you just pitch a tent in your backyard, get your kids involved in the planning process and let them pack a few of their favorite things. Reserve America explains that you need to be prepared to be flexible. Until you get into a groove, it’s difficult to predict how the littlest members of your crew will react to sleeping under the stars. Fortunately, there are hundreds of campgrounds throughout the United States that offer structured activities for inexperienced campers of all ages. If your child needs a little incentive to get excited, kids can almost always be bribed with s’mores.
Spend the day at the park. No matter where you live there is a park near you. Our nation’s National Parks – and even your hometown parks and historic sites – offer an opportunity to both connect with nature and get a glimpse at how the way the world used to be. The National Parks Conservation Association offers an extensive listing of parks from Alaska to the Suncoast and everywhere in between.
Still need convincing? Consider this: the simple act of playing outdoors stimulates brain growth and development. When kids are outside, they are exposed to new sights and sounds and have the opportunity to witness science in action (how the sun dries puddles, animal habitats, etc.). Furthermore, children who play outside on a regular basis experience decreased rates of obesity and exhibit improved cognitive and communication skills. The University of Missouri Kansas City goes into greater detail on how outdoor time affects brain development in young children.
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