How to get your kids to enjoy the outdoors

Staff Report
November 06, 2008 at 10:45 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Get out there and do something! All too often our families -- especially kids -- spend their time holed up indoors watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet.

Take advantage of the season to come up with new ways to get the family interested in outdoor activities and outings.

"Getting out and moving around is a great way for both adults and children to get or stay healthy. Children not only discover nature's wonders during outdoor activities, but getting out is a great way for them to avoid obesity and other ailments," said Mark J. Stevens, author of the new book, "Luisa's Nature."

Here are some ideas from Stevens on how you can make it more interesting for kids to get out and get active:

* Lead by example. If you're interested in the outdoors, half the battle is won. Just be yourself, get out, and enjoy nature.

Children will sense your enjoyment and will follow. Pretty soon, your children will be pulling YOU off the couch to jog on that moss-bedded forest path, jump from rock to rock along the stream, or simply enjoy the sights and sounds of daily family walks.

* Offer habit and variety. Children love ritual.

So take walks along the same path. But also offer variety.

Take a bike ride on a new path, go for a swim in a different lake, or ride a pony together. Your kids will continue to feel the warmth of the better-known "home" path. But an occasional change of pace will help expand their horizons and wake their curiosity even more.

• Use books about nature and adventures to get kids interested. Make reading together a routine and choose children's books about nature exploration. Let your child select a favorite character from each book.

Discuss that character's discoveries in nature. If the character made discoveries that you can realistically see or do in nature nearby, make that your goal on your next outing.

For instance, Winnie the Pooh and his friends set out in one book to find the North Pole. The pole turned out to be a long branch that they loudly declared the North Pole.

• Make it fun. Your goals in nature don't always have to be serious or scientific. It's about having fun and bonding.

The stories you read and goals you set before outdoor activities together give you something to refer to during walks or swims - even something to be silly and laugh about.

•Sit down and talk. Sitting at the dinner table can sometimes be boring for kids.

But if you talk about the color of flowers they saw, or the height of grass in a meadow they explored, a visual world opens for them and they want to discover more.

Let children tell the story about what they saw in nature. You can fill in some gaps. There will be more gaps remaining, however. It's those gaps you can discuss filling on your next outing. For example, what color was that lichen on the tree or the fuzzy bumblebee?

• Include other children. Bring along the neighbors' kids. When children see other kids interested in exploring the woods or playing hide-and-seek in the yard, they'll be more motivated to get out.

For more ideas on how to enjoy nature through the eyes of your child, read Stevens' new book, "Luisa's Nature."

"Healthy parenting and interaction with nature help drive children's natural senses," said Stevens. "Getting out and enjoying nature together is a great way to help them develop and learn."

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