Remember when there was no such thing as the internet? Well, I do. As a kid, I spent long hours playing in the backyard and exploring my rural neighborhood.
Whether I was racing pop cans in the irrigation ditches next to my house, sneaking into the creepy abandoned buildings behind my dad’s shop, or crafting the latest confection for my mud-pie bakery, there was always something to do.
Some days I’d even climb up into my favorite tree with a book and read until my mom called me in for dinner.
I watched the world change as I grew up, as computers and then the internet advanced, and green time gradually gave way to screen time. And now my own kids are growing up in a world totally unlike the one that raised me.
These days, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend over 7 hours a day in front of screens. Perhaps more frighteningly, the average amount of time that kids spend outside engaging in unstructured play every day is 4-7 minutes.
Some scientists worry that our lack of exposure to nature could be detrimental to our mental and physical health. If you compare our lifestyles over the past few centuries to the previous 99.9% of human history, it makes sense; our bodies and brains simply didn’t evolve in concrete jungles surrounded by screens.
While it’s not yet clear if the lack of nature negatively impacts our health, we do know that increased time in nature can improve it. Research has shown that spending more time in or around nature has a plethora of health benefits for adults and kids alike.
Specifically for kids, more nature time can:
- Encourage creativity
- Reduce stress
- Help attention and memory
- Improve immune function
- Encourage physical activity
- Promote responsibility
- Improve social connections
Help Kids Learn to Love Nature
When I was a kid, it seemed like the whole world was there to explore just outside our back door. To my kids, the whole world seems open to them, too–right on their screen.
We’re raising the first generation of kids who were born with this technology–given the powerful lure of tech, how can we encourage our kids to get back to nature?
- Tell them it’s okay if they get dirty. I apologize in advance for the ensuing laundry, but c’mon… let kids be kids. Remember to keep a few “grubby” outfits they can wear outside and get as dirty as they want.
- Give them the tools they need. A bug-catching net, a bucket and shovel, or a magnifying glass can be all it takes to spark imagination and adventure.
- Or don’t! If you really want to give the kids a creative challenge, try a “time travel challenge”. Task them to spend time or build something using only what your great-great-grandfather would have had available to use in his day.
- Plant a garden. There’s just something gratifying and miraculous about watching something that you planted grow and thrive. Growing something from seed can give kids a sense of accomplishment that rivals beating the latest level of their favorite video game.
- Start a collection. Is your kid always bugging you to expand their collection of the latest toy trend? Try encouraging them to start collecting something from nature. Collect rocks, press flowers or leaves between sheets of wax paper, or start an insect collection.
- Get outside with them. While parents in my day had a tendency to toss us kids outside and tell us “be back for dinner!”, there are plenty of reasons for you to join your kids outside. Besides the fact that nature has all the same benefits for adults as it does for kids, it’s always good to be a good role model. The more time you spend outside appreciating nature, the more your kids will value it, too.
- If all else fails, bring the tech outside. Despite the pitfalls of tech, it can still be a tool for creativity and connection. That, and sometimes you need to pick your battles. If your kid is dead set on being the next YouTube influencer extraordinaire, consider letting them shoot their next video on location. IMHO, outdoor screen time is a big improvement on indoor screen time.
- Start a worm farm. There’s nothing better than worms for gently introducing kids to the world of nature – those wriggly creatures are non-threatening and they’ll appreciate all your veggie scraps!
These are just a few ideas to help spark your (and your kids’) creativity; being in nature offers endless opportunities for exploration, innovation, and adventure. What were your favorite things to do outside growing up? Let us know! Better yet–grab your kids, get outside, and show them, too.