There is an increasing disconnect between our children and the outside world. While kids learn about nature and environmental issues in school, they have limited experience with the plants and wildlife in their own backyards and little knowledge of where our food comes from. Nurturing a love of the outdoors is a way to relieve children’s stress levels, increase their sense of well-being, and encourage physical fitness. Nature feeds the body, mind, and soul.
According to Richard Louv, in his groundbreaking national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, we are rearing a generation of children indoors with no direct contact with nature. Not only do our children miss the joy of discovery and sense of awe, but many now see the “outside” as a place of danger.
We teach our kids about “stranger danger” and caution them to “be careful” outside. Outside is a scary place – ticks and mosquitoes spread diseases. Wild animals, like snakes and coyotes, are on the prowl. A child can fall, get poison ivy, or get lost. The list is endless of what could happen. We are great at teaching kids to fear and look for evil, but we often neglect to teach them about the beauty and mystery of the natural world and how to enjoy it responsibly.
While we are protecting our children from real and imagined dangers, we are also denying them a path to wonder and imagination. Instead of viewing unscheduled time outside as “wasting time,” we need to see that connecting to nature is a way for us and our children to connect to our true selves.
Many of today’s young parents are determined to buck the trend of rearing kids “inside” and instead are committed to exposing their children to outside experiences together as a family. Chris and Rachel Jones of Newnan encourage sons Eli (age 7) and Emmett (age 5) to engage in outdoor activities. The boys love to ride bikes, play outside with friends, work in the family’s vegetable garden, and hike on trips with their parents. According to Eli, “Being out in the sun makes me happy. I get all sweaty, look around, and relax. It’s fun to eat popsicles and listen to the birds.”
Rachel Jones remembers that her family always planted a small vegetable garden wherever they lived, and she has continued the tradition. “Kids need to understand where their food comes from,” says Rachel. “We garden to grow, preserve, and serve fresh vegetables any time of the year. Everything we grow, we have started from seed. This year we are growing tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, purple-eyed beans, butter peas, and okra. The kids have learned to eat and enjoy whatever I put in front of them!” The boys especially love growing tomatoes and adding them to a BLT sandwich. They have learned to collect seeds from the garden to plant in the coming year.
Rachel’s Tips to Get Kids Outside:
- Make the outside an inviting place. Add comfortable places to sit and plan activities to get the kids initially engaged.
- Let your kids get dirty. If they are bored, make a mud puddle outside to give them a reason to get out the door.
- Don’t require your children to “work” in the garden. Invite them to join you and make it fun. Show them how to put together a tomato cage. Let them help choose what vegetables to grow and give them some of their own plants to tend.
John and Lisa Szoke of Peachtree City have created an outside oasis for their three daughters in their backyard.
“I want the girls to keep their awe and wonder of nature by creating an outside space that is fun, and where they can see the full cycle of how nature works,” says Lisa. The family started with a blank slate and slowly added features the whole family can enjoy. There is a play area, comfortable seating for whiling away a summer afternoon, a cutting garden of lush blooming flowers, and a vegetable garden.
Emily (age 8), Maddie (age 6) and Lily (age 5) are enthusiastic about the time they spend outside. Their favorite thing to do is put on swimsuits and make a mud pit, get mud all over themselves, play “mud monsters,” and throw mud balls at each other! They are all actively engaged in helping in the vegetable garden. Emily loves to cook and make fruit smoothies from the fresh produce in the garden. She also likes to shred old homework assignments and add the shredded paper to the compost pile! Maddie likes to collect bugs. Recently she picked the squash bugs off their squash plants to feed a rescued blue jay they were taking care of for a neighbor. Maddie also loves flowers and often clips a bouquet of blooms for her room. Lily just loves to be with her family outside together!