Kids and Nature – Five Affordable Outdoor Activities to Foster a Love of Nature in Your Children
By Lisa LeConte
“Nature-Deficit Disorder” is a phrase that was coined by American author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv directly linked the lack of nature exposure in our youth today to rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. It may sound unbelievable, or maybe you think it makes perfect sense, that human beings, and especially children, need nature.
We could now discuss videogames, television, and everything in between. (All the different technology our kids know better than we do!) We are likely all in agreement that we enjoy seeing our children outdoors as much as possible - running, playing, imagining, living.
Learning about the natural world around us, experiencing life as an actual adventure we can touch and feel, these are things most adults could benefit from. Imagine offering that to our children from the start. Imagine equipping them with real world experiences that would house their sense of freedom, independence, and adventure for the rest of their lives.
Instilling a love for nature in our children must start early and it must be a part of their lives. If their parents are interested and excited about something, children will be too. We can teach them that getting dirty is just fine, catching frogs is fun, and wandering through the woods is anything but boring.
Get Excited and Start Planning Your Next Outdoor Adventure
The following five activities are simple and affordable ways you can engage that sense of adventure or maybe just provoke a peaceful location where you can discuss the highlights of your child’s week without the television blaring in the background.
#1 - Camping
Let’s start with a big idea. A grand adventure that can still absolutely be made affordable. You do not have to own a big luxurious camper or RV to go camping, they can sometimes take away from the experience anyway! I promise you that the investment of a nice, sturdy tent big enough to fit your family is a great start. To most children, the thought of sleeping outside on the ground is exciting and wonderful. To make your outdoor sleeping adventure convenient, comfortable, and successful, check out our collections and explore all the affordable products we have to offer.
Most campgrounds have a pond, stream, or river nearby. Teach your children to fish or let them simply wade through the shallow end of the water and catch minnows. I have seen this activity keep a child’s attention for hours. It really is the simple things. Find a hiking trail or two during the day or if your family has them, do some mountain biking. Roast dinner on a fire and better yet, teach them how to start a fire and the importance of doing so safely. Star gaze at night and teach them a few constellations.
If you do not have a campground nearby or do not want to venture too far away, tent out in your backyard. Your child will not even care that they are 15 feet from their house, sleeping under the stars and telling stories around a fire will be just as wonderful.
#2 – Gardening
Do not let the thought of this activity overwhelm you. There is no need for an enormous yard or a large collection of tools to make this a successful endeavor with your child. Here are a few different ways you can grow a vegetable or two:
- If you have the space, a small garden plot in the corner of your yard can yield great results.
- Raised beds are gaining much popularity these days. Kits can be bought to build these types of beds. If you are handy, here are multiple ideas on how to build one to fit the nature of your space.
- Live in the city with not much for a yard? Pots work wonderfully and are a good starting point for first time gardeners. You can keep them right on your deck or patio. Herbs are great for pots. The convenience of stepping out the door and picking a few herbs for your recipe is great!
Let your child have a say in what you are going to plant. Then do the research together on how to plant, when to plant, and when to harvest. Imagine the pride your child will feel helping you cook dinner with something they grew themselves.
#3 – Picnic
Such a simple idea, but something the whole family can enjoy. Pack a cooler, picnic basket, and blanket and find that perfect spot. It can even be a weekly tradition when the weather is warm.
Maybe you have one tree in your yard that can be your “picnic tree.” If you do not have any such trees, pick one at a nearby park. Asking your child “should we have a picnic at our tree today?” is sure to get them outside and maybe even excite them enough to help pack the lunch and choose the foods. Pack some of those strawberries or carrots that you grew in your garden or the cherry tomatoes that you grew in the pots on your deck!
#4 – Scavenger Hunts
This is one of my favorites. I have used it numerous times for children of every age and it never disappoints. This activity gets children outside and really observing all that is around them. Here are some tips to making a successful scavenger hunt:
- List the items on a Word document in big bold letters and print out the list. This is a great way to get the child excited about the list. Adding some clipart next to each item takes it to the next level of awesome and is necessary for the younger children who are not yet advanced readers. This will help them develop their literacy skills while having fun outdoors.
- Consider the area you are using for your hunt location. What kinds of things are common in that area? Plants, animals, insects, flowers, oddly shaped rocks or sticks, are all good options. You can even list other items that get their senses going. Ask them to feel a breeze, hear two birds chirping, or one bee buzzing.
- Whatever the location, a great item to include on your list is trash. I know, sounds bizarre. Take a trash bag with you and add to the list that each child must find two pieces of trash to pick up and throw away. Take care of the environment while you play!
- If you have a group of children who are competitive you can split into teams and make it a race. Whatever the size of your group, there could also be an incentive or prize at the end if they check off every item on the list.
#5 – Forts
Bridge to Terabithia is the 1977 novel written by Katherine Paterson which tells the story of Jesse, a young boy who feels like an outcast and is bitter and angry. Jesse eventually becomes very close with his outgoing, spunky neighbor Leslie. Together the two of them foster each other’s creativity and create a “kingdom” near the creek behind their homes. They call this kingdom Terabithia and each time they meet there they are transported to a world of magical forests, battles with unknown beasts, and celebratory feasts.
Nature does this for our children. It fosters imagination. Fort play that can be done in the house is that much better when you move it outside. The setting supplies a sense of freedom and a spark for the imagination. Your work does not have to be featured on the television show Treehouse Masters to impress your children. Help them with a little bit of construction, then let their imaginations do the rest. The following are just a few ideas on how to make this happen.
- Turn your child’s swing set into a hideout with a few modifications and household supplies.
- Sheets overtop of chairs and couches make great house forts – using old sheets can work outside too. String a rope between two trees and drape a sheet over the rope. Secure the sheet on all four sides to the ground and you have a small teepee.
- Do not let winter stop you! Snow forts require a lot of snow, but your child will have a blast helping you create an enormous pile and etch out a little “fort” inside.
Set the stage and teach your children it’s great to be creative and dream. Most do not need much push in the imagination department. That is why we love being around children!
These activities are just a few ways to begin that quest to allow your children to be children. Teach them the beauty of nature and how fortunate we are to live it, breathe it, and enjoy it every day.