5 Ways to Get Your Kids Outside This Summer

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Over the past three years, during which I have worked as an outdoor educator and a camp counselor, I have had the privilege of witnessing and experiencing first-hand the powerful impact that immersive experience in nature can have on a person. While I am immensely grateful for the various pieces of incredible technology that assist us every day and I have no interest in demonizing them,

1. Nature Walks



One of the best activities for engaging in the outdoors is also the simplest: a nature walk. “Nature Walk” is a very broad term and it should be embraced as such. It can be a walk through a local park, a walk along a beach or river, a hike through the woods, or even a six-month backpacking trip across a continent. There is no list of qualifications, no minimum effort or distance, and no points or goals beyond intentionally spending time outside, so make your plans according to the time you have available and your confidence level. One common mistake that keeps people from enjoying the outdoors is overthinking. While understanding risks and taking precautions is important, going for a nature walk can be a very simple task with numerous benefits.

I have led hundreds of children from a very wide variety of backgrounds on nature walks, and one of the most important lessons I have learned is to and allow them to lead. If I announce a plan and structure the experience to match my own agenda, that will remove much of the sense of adventure and wonder that is so important. If the kids are excited about finding salamanders, then slow down, start flipping over rocks and look for salamanders! If they are excited about the idea of hiking to the top of a hill, then get to the top of the hill! If they want to explore a stream or pond, let them get their feet wet! At the beginning of a nature walk I will always explain my rules, which I like to keep simple: do not behave in a way that is disrespectful or dangerous, whether it is towards another person, an animal, a plant, or yourself. Once I am confident that they understand my expectations, I start to view my role as more of a facilitator than a director, a gardener rather than an architect.

If your child’s mobility is limited, I recommend focusing on staying in one area and seeing how much you can observe.  There is a fantastic book called the Forest Unseen by David Haskell that suggests going to the same place outside every day and creating an imaginary boundary.  Within that boundary, slow down, take some time to observe using all 5-senses, and truly see what is living in this small piece of the world.  Revisit “your spot” frequently and try to notice any changes.  This can be done on a back porch, yard, or the woods!


2. Outdoor Scavenger Hunts

What many adults fail to realize is that playtime is an extremely valuable time for learning. Montessori philosophy actually emphasizes play versus traditional learning.  Your kids may be learning and you may not even realize it!  Whether they are creating an experiment to see what floats or tracking a bug, all of this is experiential learning.
If you ever find that your kids are lacking this natural curiosity, I’d encourage you to look for some printable scavenger hunts that can act as a guide.  There are many options available online, on websites such as Etsy.com or TeachersPayTeachers.com. It is also fairly easy to make one at home or even have your kids get involved in creating it!

Scavenger Hunts are also great to bring along on car rides, family vacations, walks, and outdoor gatherings.  Kids stay busy working on their missions while you get to sit back and relax.  Although, I’m sure they’ll come running with some new amazing discoveries.

3. Camping


Camping can be a bit expensive, especially when having to buy gear for kids but if it is something that you have access to I highly suggest planning a camping trip.  Kids love the idea of sleeping outdoors.  Even if you just set up a tent or sleeping bags in the backyard, your kids are going to have a blast.

If you do have the ability to go to a campground, be sure to make the most out of it.  Go on hikes and explore the natural area a bit. You are leaving your home to be more in nature, so don’t resist it!  Camping is a great opportunity to teach about “Leave no Trace” and how to properly interact with wildlife.  It is also an amazing time to stargaze and bond as a family.

If you currently do not have access to a tent, check out REI used gear section or thrift stores.  I have had success in finding affordable gently used gear.

4. Visiting a Swimming Hole

Believe it or not, swimming is not just for play.  Visiting a natural swimming hole, river, pond, or lake is a great opportunity for some educational fun.  What makes these areas so great is that they have an ecosystem to explore.  If kids get bored swimming, they’ll naturally be drawn to exploring the sandy shore or investigating some wildlife.

Kids’ natural sense of curiosity will turn an outing to get some relief from the heat to an adventure. From birdwatching to fishing, to exploring aquatic plants there is so much to explore.  I’d highly recommend bringing along a freshwater guide to whatever your child is most curious about.

5.  Nature Engineering Projects

Another fantastic way to get your kids out of the house this summer is with a nature-based STEM project.  One of the simplest ways to do this is building nature-forts or shelters out of natural items found in the woods.  All you really need are a bunch of sticks and maybe some leaves.  Allow kids to let their imagination run wild!

To make it an added challenge, have your kids make it waterproof and test to see how well it stands up to rain.  You can test this by squirting a water bottle over the roof of the shelter or by pouring a pitcher of water over it.  If your kids are really brave, have them sit inside it while you test it!

There are tons of other nature-based STEM projects as well such as building a boat, building furniture, making miniature structures, and making art out of nature!


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If you live in an area of the world where you experience four seasons, do not let your kids miss out on the long summer days and endless opportunities for exploration.  What I like about the 5 suggestions I provided is that most families can do them regardless of their financial status.  Many of these suggestions require no supplies, other than items you find in nature.  The only constraint is access to nature, which a local park will do the trick!

Nature is also one of the safest places to be during the ongoing COVID pandemic, just remember to bring your masks!




Happy Exploring,
Hannah
Wild and Growing

by Wild and Growing

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