It’s a cliche that kids want to get outside so they can play. At least, that’s been the case in the past. Today, for many parents, it takes work to get kids to like the outdoors. Electronic devices, video games and streaming services rank among some of the biggest reasons why kids prefer life indoors.
Harvard Health notes the sudden shift to spending so much time indoors is a dramatic change, even though experts typically expect changes from generation to generation. “It’s not just children,” they note. “Adults are spending less time outdoors as well.”
For parents who grew up loving the outdoors and want to pass on that love to the next generation, it may take a more focused effort. But finding ways to get kids to like the outdoors is well worth the effort.
Reasons Kids Need to Be Outdoors
The team at Harvard listed “crucial reasons” why kids need to spend more time outdoors. They include the following.
- Sunshine. While protection against sunburn is important, our bodies need sunshine to make Vitamin D, which is critical to bone development and a strong immune system.
- Exercise. While kids can exercise indoors, they are more likely to get all the exercise their body needs when you put them outside with a ball or bike.
- Executive function. Doing outdoor activities, including fishing and hunting, improve the brain’s ability to plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate and multitask.
- Taking risks. Kids need the chance to make decisions for themselves and try things, even if they fail. Both adults and kids learn as much from failure as they do from success.
- Socialization. Being outdoors with friends and family builds socialization skills that will serve kids well as they grow up.
- Appreciate nature. Being in nature can calm kids and teach them an appreciation for the beauty of woods, streams, rivers, meadows, lake shores – all the areas you can only experience by being outside.
Ways to Get Kids to Like the Outdoors
For parents who were raised to love the outdoors – and doing outdoor activities such as hunting, hiking, fishing and camping – it’s natural to want to share what’s great about the outdoors with children. That passion can make getting them interested in the outdoors easier because you likely started with them early. But even if you didn’t start early, there are many ways to get kids to like the outdoors, especially if you keep certain ideas in mind.
Let Them Play
It’s hard to teach a kid under the age of eight or so to get serious about fishing or camping if what they’d rather do is play in the stream. The key: Let them play in the stream. That’s what builds up a love of the outdoors. There’s time enough later to set expectations about tasks they should do. Part of this is letting them know it’s perfectly fine to get wet and dirty.
Make It Routine
When kids are young, you can get them used to routinely doing something outside. Planning something for every Saturday is a good way to start. For the young ones, you can make playdates with other kids that involve outdoor activities.
Focus On What They Like
The choices of outdoor activities range from hunting and hiking to gardening and diving. Try different activities with your child until they find one they love. Then, you can concentrate more on doing that one.
Let Them Be Independent
One of the great pleasures of teaching kids to like the outdoors is the way it builds up independence. As they get older, it’s helpful to bring them in on the planning and organizing for your outdoor adventures. As they begin to learn important lessons for themselves, they eventually reach a point where they want to do the activity with someone other than you (or at least bring a friend along). That’s the time to let them gain that independence and put what you’ve taught them to work.
These ideas can help you get kids to like the outdoors. But every kid (and parent) follows their own path. Maybe the best lesson is to stay flexible on what specifically you do, but stay committed to the idea of getting them outdoors. The benefits to their body and mind are worth the effort.