You’re good parents. You try to limit the kids’ TV and computer time and monitor the content of their video games. But somewhere between bill paying, housecleaning, the wash, cooking, and the work you have to bring home from the office…a couple of weeks go by and you don’t complain when your children spend a little more time in front of the old boob tube, computer or Wii so you can get a few extra minutes of quiet time. The next thing you know, they are glued to the TV more and more and the grass is getting tall in the backyard – it’s been so long since they actually spent time outside in the fresh air. Sound familiar? Believe it or not today kids spend an average of 55 hours a week indoors using electronics and less and less time outdoors.
It’s funny how quickly bad habits can take hold, but the good news is…you can promote good habits just by offering some fun alternatives that are sure to get the kids outside – moving, breathing fresh air, and learning about the natural world around them.
Send them on a scavenger hunt.
Depending on the fauna in your own backyard, give the kids a list of natural items to search for – an acorn, a pine cone, a leaf, a small white stone, a bird’s feather, a berry… are just a few ideas for the younger child. Set a time limit (your goal is to get them outside for an hour of play if possible). After they come in to show their treasures, spend time talking about the items and identifying them, so it’s a great learning experience disguised as play.
Feed the birds.
Putting up a bird feeder and keeping it filled with birdseed is another way to get the kids involved in activities outdoors. If you have ever fed the birds, you know how frequently a well-visited feeder will need to be refilled. Try giving that responsibility to the kids. When they are involved on a daily basis, they are much more likely to take an interest and start learning to recognize “their” birds by appearance and their song. Provide a field guide and encourage your kids to keep a record of the birds they see. It could become a lifelong passion.
Encourage a budding shutterbug.
There’s nothing like looking through the lens of a camera to get kids interested in spending time in and learning about the natural world. All they need is a simple, inexpensive camera. It could be the start of something big… you could be encouraging the next Ansel Adams. Let them start a photo scrapbook of the shots they have taken of natural subjects – from trees, to clouds, birds, to other wildlife, flowers, and sunsets. The list is almost limitless. By suggesting they make a note of the dates and locations of their photographs, they can see how their work improves over time.
Make art of nature.
Your kids can save their natural treasures by pressing leaves, flowers and grass between wax paper in a big book and then arranging them, pasting them to paper and framing them. (Note: it’s a great, inexpensive gift for grandparents that will mean even more because they made it themselves.) They can make leaf prints by applying ink to a leaf with a sponge and pressing it on paper for an instant artistic print, also suitable for framing.
Build a fort.
Most of us have fond memories of the patient relative who would let us transform a rainy day and an ordinary table into a magical tent or fort with nothing more than an old blanket or bedspread. Give that same approach an outdoor spin and provide your kids the raw materials to build their own backyard fort. If you have a clothesline, it can become an instant tent with the addition of a sheet or blanket and some rocks or bricks to hold down the sides. If you don’t have a clothesline, try helping them string a rope or cable between two trees, to form the support for the tent and voila! Toss in a couple of old throw rugs for a bug-free floor and they’ll have hours of fun in their backyard campsite.
Teach by example.
If you really want to instill a deep love of the outdoors in your children, so that spending time outside is the rule instead of the exception, your best bet is to teach by example. Plan your family time around activities that will get you all out of the house. There are so many options – hike a local trail, plan a weekend campout, picnic in the park, or just roast some hotdogs around a backyard fire pit…the list goes on and on. The only crucial ingredients are your time, attention and the great outdoors.