The comfortable rhythm of summer and early autumn days, combined with the abundant sunshine and warmth, is a wonderful invitation for kids to play outdoors for long hours. However, once school starts and the cooler weather sets in, we may find our children (and ourselves) sitting indoors for longer periods of time or participating in activities inside instead of out.
Connecting with nature is an incredibly important element for wellness in everyone’s lives, but especially our kids. So, how do you keep them interested in coming outdoors for more fresh air when the days are shorter, and the weather doesn’t seem as hospitable as summertime?
Why it matters
Whether you are an “outdoorsy” family or not, all of us humans have an innate need to connect with the world around us. This doesn’t mean you need to go camping every weekend or give up your cozy indoor time when the weather turns. However, it does mean that we need to recognize the importance of helping our kids to establish a connection with the wider (and wilder) world.
The average American child today spends about seven hours in front of a screen and seven minutes outdoors. That statistic may sound outrageous, but if you are a parent, you don’t need to be warned about the draw of technology and how that has impacted our children on every level. Along with the rise in technology use and the decrease in time spent outside, we have a correlating increase in childhood illnesses, both mental and physical. In fact, some suggest that spending more time outdoors can be incredibly beneficial for children with a whole host of difficulties, including stress, ADHD, physical ailments, and more.
The main point? Getting outside matters in living a healthy, full life. And although playing video games or watching tv is great fun, we need to find a better balance for our kids, especially when the cooler days of fall come knocking.
It doesn’t have to be hard
The best way to help your family to get outside more this fall is to make it fun! Letting your kid’s interests lead the way will make for a much more authentic connection with the world around them. Need some ideas?
For future botanists
It may be obvious to let your kids in on the gardening during the summer, but fall can also be a fun time to try your hand at getting into the dirt. Plant a fall garden with mums, bulbs for spring, or even a mix of winter loving veggies. Maybe your child would even like to plan and tend to their very own small garden? If you and your kids want to think bigger, head on out to one of Hancock County’s walking and biking trails for a stroll or ride through the woods. You can even use your phone or a handy guide to identify plants as you see them.
For sports enthusiasts
Do your kids move their bodies constantly? Indoors, this may mean jumping on the couches, racing each other on obstacle courses, or even playing indoor sports. Bring their active little hearts outdoors for some fun. Frisbee, catch, tag, hide and seek, or creating an obstacle course are all great ways to engage your kids. Taking them to a local park in the fall or winter is an easy way to get them excited about climbing, jumping, and playing outdoors during a different season of the year.
For kids with big imaginations
The greatest part about being outdoors, from a child’s point of view, is the freedom from structure. We are so used to following rules, especially indoors that this can be a hard transition for some kids. Nature asks us to use our imaginations so that we can climb a tree, create a rope swing, and find a balance beam on an old fallen tree. Kids can create games, get dirty, discover ecosystems, build forts, and engage in any way their heart desires when they have the freedom to do so. The fall, with its crisp air and abundance of leaf piles, is a great place to do just that.
For kids who like a challenge
For older kids, engage them in some actual work outdoors. We don’t mean mowing the lawn, raking leaves or any of those boring old things. What about chores that children may have had to do decades or centuries ago? Whittling fallen sticks, braiding cord from fall grasses, harvesting food and learning how to start a fire without a match are all very challenging but have great rewards for physical and mental health. A feeling of accomplishment through calculated risk can mean a lot to tweens and teens who are trying to figure out who they are and what they like to do.
Getting outside is vital for the health of our kids and our planet’s future. If we are going to raise a generation of people who will care for the earth, we need to start now. Fall is a great time to get into nature and have some fun together!