Kids and the out-of-doors just seem to go together. Summer camps, fishing expeditions, river rafting trips, family camping vacations all seem like a typical part of growing up. But often kids aren’t introduced to the outdoors until they are older, sometimes not even until adulthood. As with any activity, the longer you wait to get your kid into it, the harder it might be to demonstrate that being outside can be really fun, exciting, safe, adventurous, and just cool overall. There are some really excellent reasons to introduce your children to the great outdoors, and we’re here to share our top five with you.
1) Health, health, and more health. What’s really good for kids in an outdoor, physical sense? Exercise. Play. Vitamin D. Wait—vitamin D, you say? Yes, as in that stuff we get from the sun (in moderation). Studies show that with our über-connected society focused on indoor games, children are getting less time outside than previous generations that didn’t have Play Station. Sure, games like Wii and Kinect are great because they get your kids moving—but they can’t simulate all the health benefits of playing outside. Studies also show that more time spent outside can lead to a lesser need for glasses due to nearsightedness (oh, those computers and other small-screen devices we love!), longer attention spans since greater periods of time are spent on single activities rather than bouncing around from interest to interest in a matter of mere minutes or even seconds, and a stronger ability to connect to and understand other people–especially family.
2) Dirt is good for kids. Seriously, dirt won’t hurt kids. In fact, it just might help them boost their immune system, realize they can get a bit muddy without the world ending, and show them they can settle into a natural environment and have fun! Most kids will gravitate toward getting dirty—just ask any parent of a two-year-old. Yet as they grow, children are often taught in ways both direct and unconscious that dirt is a bad thing. Playing outside is a totally natural activity that allows kids to let down their defenses in a healthy manner, redirect their attention away from self-focus and toward community/group focus, and simply connect with the natural world. Pretty deep stuff for a little bit of dirt.
3) Time spent in a noncompetitive, nonjudgmental natural setting helps kids relax. Cities inherently breed artificiality. After all, they are designed to be the very opposite of nature. Sure, cities definitely can be wonderful, fun places that most humans can enjoy. But they can also support negative comparison with others and stressors in general that can adversely affect kids during those critical growing-up years. There’s a reason we take vacations, and a reason why something like a river rafting vacation in the great outdoors can rejuvenate one’s outlook on life. Get your kids outside at a young age so they have a head start on understanding why getting back to nature can be such a positive thing.
4) New experiences teach children to grow. Wilderness can seem a little intimidating to kids who haven’t spent much time away from electricity, pavement, and walls between them and the open air. All the different things they’ll get to do outside can broaden their horizons and let them reach out and touch the stars, so to speak. Helping to paddle the raft, organize the tent, and getting to swim in a river are all new experiences that can show your kid the benefits of working together with others as well as the enjoyment of their place in this big, beautiful natural world of ours.
5) Never-to-be-forgotten memories. Getting outside can create a ton of memories. Good (laughter and play), bad (you expect me to poop where?), and ugly (mosquitoes!), the memories formed when a kid gets outside for an extended river trip for the first time are going to last a lifetime. And don’t we all want our kids to have great memories of childhood?
Written by Julie Trevelyan.
Julie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.
See more of her work at www.wildgirlwriting.com