Six ways to instill the love of the wild in a child. It’s a profound yet simple statement: Kids belong outside.
Something deeper than appreciating flora and fauna connects kids with outside playtime. A litany of scientific studies proves what many Texas parents know instinctively — there is lasting physical and cognitive value in turning off electronic entertainment and venturing outdoors.
Growing up in the late 1960s and ’70s, I spent most of my free time in the wild. I grew up in the country, so being outside was a given, since there wasn’t much competition in the house for my time.
It’s a far different world today.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children today spend an average of seven and a half hours a day consuming electronic media. Shockingly, less than four minutes a day is spent in unstructured outdoor play. The Nielsen Company says that most preschoolers log in excess of 32 hours of TV per week and have seen more than 5,000 hours of television by the time they reach kindergarten. That’s equivalent to the amount of time it takes to earn a college degree.
Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment — but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was.
Kids need the outdoors on a mental, physical and spiritual level. A growing body of research shows that outdoor play helps kids focus in school and increases creativity, cooperation, self-reliance and self-esteem.
The links to physical and mental health are clear. Want your kids to spend more time outside? Here are six easy ways to instill a love of the outdoors in your children.
Children’s inherent curiosity is easily tuned in to learning about nature.
When children are small, pick flowers and study their parts. Play with ladybugs, and learn which plants and animals stick or sting, and which ones don’t. It’s just that simple. Learning about nature doesn’t have to be complicated. Spending time outdoors as a child yields memories that last a lifetime.
Bring Nature into School
Schools across Texas recognize the importance of including nature in their curriculum. Any school with an agricultural science program has the option of including a wildlife and recreation component. Physical education and science classes often include recreational and ecological components as well.
It takes someone who is passionate and willing to introduce kids to the valuable lessons the outdoors teaches.
Teach About Food and Fiber
Some people argue that one of the key disconnects of modern society is that many people no longer have a direct connection to where their food and fiber come from. As society becomes more urbanized, many people do lose touch with agricultural production, this causes those individuals to undermine agriculture’s role as a staple in our society.
Vegetable gardening is a great way to introduce kids to the food production process. Watching plants grow from a seed to food you can eat is instructive and opens up opportunities for all kinds of ecological lessons throughout the growing season.
Take It on the Road
Try to plan your routes based on stuff to do that’s nature-related when traveling. Take detours into state parks. It adds a day or two to trips, but the detours help break up the monotony.
Talk About Conservation
Develop a passion for teaching young people about conservation and the outdoors. As adults and conservationists, we recognize the importance of stewardship and also the difficulties we face with an ever-growing, ever more urban, ever more ecologically ignorant populace.
As the Chinese proverb says: “Tell me, and I forget. Show me, and I remember. Involve me, and I understand.”
Go Fishing and Hunting
Consumptive outdoor activities are an excellent way of teaching kids about the outdoors. Try to teach that food comes from the game harvested. Knowing where your food comes from is an important part of being an outdoors-man.
My hope is simple. As we raise our kids to be a part of rural Texas, I hope that the love and longing for the outdoors is planted deep within them. Those memories they are making each time they head outdoors are eternal. One day, they’ll pass on these lessons to their own children.
Go outside & play & take that little one with you!