Five Fabulous Ways to Encourage Kids to Enjoy the Great Outdoors
If Terri and Todd have got you excited about the wonderful world of Nature through their Nature Adventures series, you may be intrigued to learn that there are profound reasons by human beings need to connect with Nature. In his excellent books, Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, author and Nature lover, Richard Louv, notes that children and adults alike are suffering from an often ignored condition known as ‘Nature deficit disorder’. Countless studies have shown that far from being a mere way to spend one’s hours of leisure, time spent in Nature is necessary. According to Louv, “children who don’t get Nature time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit disorder”. Moreover, couch potato syndrome is inexorably linked with obesity; in the 1960s, obesity figures stood at only 4 per cent in the US yet currently, the number stands at 20 per cent. It is estimated that children spend 90 per cent of their time indoors and use gadgets and computers for around 50 hours a week. Pre-school children are also a fast-growing consumer base for anti-depressants and other behavior modifiers, which is no less than a wake-up call for the need to get them out into beautiful, wild Nature, which offers them a plethora of activities that will boost their physical fitness and sense of wellness as well. If you are stuck for ideas as to how to encourage children to enjoy the very best of the Great Outdoors, why not try one of these five tips?
1. Work out as a family in your very own ‘green gym’: Nature abounds with items you can use to perform strength and aerobic exercises: flat green plains, tree trunks (for arm lifts or presses), the sea for limitless freestyle strokes. Encourage kids to work up a sweat outdoors by planning a workout based on the characteristics of the natural area your are visiting. If anyone doubts the value of exercising outdoors, tell them about a recent study published in the International Journal of Stress Management, which compared the psychological effects of exercising outdoors with those of working out on a treadmill indoors. Researchers found that subjects who exercised outdoors felt the greatest surge in energy. It has also been proven that outdoor runners burn slightly more calories than those using an indoor gym treadmill, owing to lack of air resistance indoors. Still another study has found that outdoor exercise has more restorative effects than indoor exercise. The study showed that the more restorative exercise was found to be, the more frequently subjects exercised; it is only logical that we should consistently pursue what makes us feel good.
2. Take a Forest Bath: Children are likely to be quite intrigued by a new way to enjoy Nature: by taking a ‘forest bath’! Various studies, most of which have been carried out in Japan, indicate that simply bathing the senses in Nature (by taking a long, tranquil walk or spending time in Nature) has an array of physiological effects, including lowering our cortisol (‘stress hormone’) levels and our blood pressure. Just contemplating an image representing a forest, it has been found, alters blood flow in the brain and helps us achieve a state of relaxation.
3. Make your next holiday together an eco one: When you have children aged around seven or under, a dream holiday usually means taking them to a fun park. When you’re planning your next holiday, factor Nature into the equation. Involve children in your plans and take the most eco friendly option for getting to your destination. Even cruises, once thought to be the very opposite of sustainability, are adopting environmentally friendly practices (such as using solar panels to power ships, recycling water and using biofuels to power machinery). Don’t just travel wisely; travel to an area you can learn from. Instead of choosing a highly urban destination (which is usually ideal for sightseeing and other cultural pursuits), select areas with lush forests, rivers and beaches, famed for their wide variety of flora and fauna, or even for unique species (countries like Australia, home to cuddly koalas, friendly kangaroos and burrowing wombats, are veritable must-sees for lovers of exotic species). Of course, getting up close to the local fauna does not have to involve major expense: there are a myriad of species in your own garden; why not make it a point to observe them, research on their characteristics and behavior and create activities centered on these species, with your kids?
4. Organize a community activity out in the wilderness: Plan a child-friendly hike up a mountain and put an ad in your local paper or announce your event on a social networking site frequented by members of your community or local area. Once you find other parents who are interested in venturing forth into Nature, plan a workshop for your kids together – ask the little ones to create artwork with items found in Nature or make jewelry with flowers or leaves. Organize a scavenger hunt in which kids have to find specific items on a list (such as a feather, a pinecone or a particular color of leaf). Another fun activity is to study tracks (to observe which animals have made them) and still another is to set out on a journey to discover edible items from Nature: everything from berries to rosemary and other herbs. When you get home, cook a meal together so your kids can see how these ingredients can be used. Children should be supervised, however, to ensure they don’t consume any potentially dangerous or inedible plants.
5. Plant a tree… or a garden: Find out about any local tree planting initiatives in your area, or better yet, plant your own garden (edible or otherwise) and watch how local fauna (including birds you may not have seen in a while and lovely ladybugs) begin to make themselves known to you. If everyone did their share to plant native plants and trees, they would do wonders in terms of restoring the natural ecosystems of your area.
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