How to help kids love the outdoors? Really? We actually live in a moment in time where it is necessary to share tips on this topic. Which is crazy! I grew up roaming the neighborhood with my buddies on bike or foot, while exploring and creating our own adventures amongst the tall pine trees, in a sandbox or at the nearby park. But now, with screens and tablet everywhere you look (even the back of airplane seats) sometimes kids find themselves more happy while digesting something they are watching. This won’t be a blog post lecturing anyone about the proper amount of screen time – save that for parenting blogs. We’re focused on getting our kids outside as much as possible…but especially when we are traveling! There is a little bit of science behind getting kids outdoors, which is worth a read, too.
When traveling with kids (at least our kids), the focus is rarely on art museums and admiring old cathedrals. Especially since we aim to travel off the beaten path and away from the usual “touristy” destinations – many of the activities and adventures we have are focused on being outdoors. We’ve talked a bit about why kids are so awesome to travel with and this would be another reason to add to that list. Getting outdoors brings a new appreciation to anywhere you are. Nature provides an opportunity to learn and grow in so many ways. It is an instant teaching tool as well as a source of unlimited joy and creativity.
Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives. – Thomas Beery, The Dream of the Earth
While traveling, being outdoors provides us with a chance to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the world around us. It also helps us dive into any location – we don’t need fancy museums or restaurants to have a great time when we have an awesome trail or park to explore! But sometimes, especially these days, when research shows that kids spend almost 53 hours a week in front of screens, it can be a challenge to get your kids outside. Here are our 5 tips to get your kids to love the outdoors and open a whole new world of adventures both at home and while traveling.
- Grab some binoculars and start finding wildlife wherever you are. Birding is a great way to explore and play an outside version of hide and seek. Here are some awesome apps to help you identify all of the birds you find! And as luck would have it, there are birds pretty much anywhere you go! City parks, hiking trails, rest areas on the side of a road…It turns out to be a massive game of I spy
- Find a hiking trail near you – and just go for a walk to explore. Even better and a bigger hit with our kids? Go Geocaching. You can literally find geocaches anywhere in the world and it is like the world’s biggest treasure hunt! What is geocaching? According to geocaching.com, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” There are a few simple rules — if you take something from the cache, leave something in return, put the cache back where you found it, and log your find on a geocaching app or website! Geocaching has enabled us to go on treasure hunts around the globe and explore way off the beaten path locations with our kids. Our own hometown has close to 100 to find as well, so the search never needs to end.
- Don’t let foul weather slow you down! We’ve always said, there’s no such thing as bad weather…just insufficient gear. Whether we are at home or traveling, we are ready for any weather Mother Nature throws at us. **Bonus tip: keep a weather “go bag” in your car or travel bags at all times — we keep a long sleeve top, long pants, extra undies, extra socks, a swimsuit, pack towels and cheap ponchos at the ready — just in case the weather changes or someone falls/jumps/plops down in a puddle/a lake/the ocean. No matter what we experience for weather, we always make the most of it – it is all about the perception and the attitude in which you approach it with kids. “Have you ever been in a rainstorm in Mexico before?! This is AMAZING!!!” Rain, snow, fog, thunderstorms, blizzards, hail — our kids roll with it because we do! Good gear means you can always be outside and no one is left complaining that they are wet, cold, soggy or dirty. It also means you can hop into any adventure you find — see an awesome beach on the side of the road? Pull over and play! And rest assured, you don’t need fancy gear or expensive things to enjoy the outdoors.
- Lead by example – show your kids how much you love being outdoors as well. Always join in on the fun and adventures that await when you are outdoors together. Get in the dirt and play with them. Find a babysitter and have your own outdoor adventures — and then tell your kids how awesome it was. Last year, we hiked one of our favorite peaks in Bozeman, Montana and had our kiddos stay with family — and we FaceTimed them from the peak…totally one of my favorite parenting moments. They couldn’t believe we had climbed a mountain and they even tried to find us. Now they are anxiously awaiting their chance to climb a mountain with mom and dad.
- Give your children a sense of ownership of our world. Teach your children to respect nature and work as a family to protect it. Talk about the ways you can keep our planet clean and safe. Our kids have organized clean up days on local beaches, solely based on their own observation that there was trash laying around. Help your kids experience how other people around the globe take care of the planet and how you can try to do the same at home. Our kids LOVED how everyone in the Netherlands traveled by bike – and asked if we could do more bike commuting once we were home. (Absolutely!) Encourage your kids to take on projects to make your community a greener, safer, cleaner place. It is amazing to watch how quickly they want to work to protect nature and the beauty that surrounds them when they have a love for it. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up and toss it.
Travel gives us extra opportunities to explore the world around us. But you need not travel far to fully appreciate the beauty that our planet has. Appreciating the outdoors makes travel to any location – near or far – much richer and fills your cup with wonder and amazement. Even a simple park in a new location can be filled with birds, bugs and critters you have never seen before. Get out and enjoy it!