Encouraging Outdoor Exploration for Kids

Summer camp is a great place for your kids to engage in nature and explore the outdoors. When they're not at camp, there are some things parents and families can do to encourage nature exploration. Guest blogger Michael Burke shares more.

Encouraging Outdoor Exploration for Kids

While winter has done its best to stick around, warmer weather is finally taking root this spring, making it the perfect time for families to seek some outdoor adventures.

Kids need active, outdoor play.

Unstructured play is a great way to spend time outside, but some kids may need a little parental push to unplug and explore the environment around them. Indeed, recent research shows the average child between the ages of 8 and 18 spends seven hours and 38 minutes in front of some sort of electronic screen every day.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, this can leave little time for outdoor play, which encourages kids to experience and appreciate nature, among many other benefits. In fact, experts recommend that children spend 30 minutes to an hour outdoors each day. This time should be devoted to activities that allow them to relax and unwind, engage in creative playtime, or get them moving, which also helps them reach the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. And, though that may seem like a lot of boxes to check, play can definitely be both physically active and relaxing for young people.

Ideas for fun outdoor play. 

Sometimes, kids may need a little push to take playtime outdoors. One of the best ways to get kids outside more often is by beginning in your own backyard. There are countless adventures to be had - check out this list from Plexus to get the ideas flowing.

Backyard camping & bird watching: 

You could start with something as simple as pitching a tent within a few feet of your door, which is an ideal way to introduce kids to camping and teach basic skills like how to stay safe around a fire pit. Extend the exploration into daylight hours by putting together a backyard bird feeder. Something as simple as a pine cone coated in peanut butter and birdseed can help attract an amazing array of avians for backyard birders to observe.

Scavenger hunts: 

If kids want to go a little farther afield, consider organizing a treasure hunt to incorporate more physical activity. Make your own property “pirate-friendly” by hiding clues and drawing up a treasure map that leads to some sort of backyard booty. Or, extend the adventure around the neighborhood, encouraging your kids to invite a few friends to follow a treasure map with you as an adult accomplice to help them stay safe during their active outdoor adventures. Another plus, following a map reinforces academic and life skills including problem-solving and sequencing.

Gardening: 

Spring is also the obvious time to start a family garden, which offers a bounty of benefits. As just one example, studies have shown that children who participated in gardening projects earned higher science achievement scores than their non-gardening peers. That makes sense since gardening encourages environmental observation skills. And you can encourage kids’ curiosity even further by visiting local botanical gardens, offering access to age-appropriate books about plants, and encouraging them to keep a photo journal chronicling your garden’s growth.

Tending a garden can also help nourish kids’ bodies and souls. For example, even finicky eaters might be more likely to try a vegetable they had a hand in growing. And the physical effort that goes into gardening can help them hone gross motor skills while creating calm and focus, according to information from the PBS Parents.  

Gardening can also help strengthen your roots as a family by promoting communication skills and encouraging teamwork. Propagating produce from scratch will also give your kids a sense of purpose and responsibility for both the plants under their care and the natural resources that help them thrive.  

In conclusion

So whether your kids are interested in camping, cultivating, exploring their environment in search of treasure, or one of the many other engaging outdoor activities you can help plan, there are many safe ways to encourage your kids to disconnect with digital screens to create a connection with the outdoors that will last a lifetime.