Summer is here. The kids are out of school, which means it’s time to hear the two words that every parent with kids at home for the summer fears most: “I’m bored.”
Let’s face it, we want to empathize, but we just can’t. As parents, we are rarely afforded the opportunity to be bored. Between our careers, things that need to be done around the house and all the general malarkey that comes with adulting, it’s hard to have too much sympathy. You’ll find yourself looking begrudingly at the pile of “must have” toys that you spent a small fortune on, discarded and unplayed with. You’ll think of that yard that you’ve worked so hard to maintain left abandoned by your children. You know the TV is there, you know the tablet and the video game systems are there, but you know that’s not the answer. You know the true cure to this tedium. You need to get those kids out in in nature.
Taking the time to get out into nature is good for all of us. We are all constantly surrounded by technology, and we know we need to unplug now and then. But how do you get your young children interested in spending time in the great outdoors? Here are a few things to consider when trying to get the kids out into the wild.
I’ll admit it, through the stress of fatherhood, the global pandemic and massive career changes, I’ve packed on a few pounds. Combine that with a bald head and propensity to sweat walking out to get the mail, and it’s safe to say that I’m quite content in my well air conditioned home. The first person that I have to convince to go out on a hike on a humid summer day is myself.
Taking your kids out into nature is pushing yourself out of your literal comfort zone. This in itself can be one of the biggest hurdles in getting the kids interested in nature: getting yourself interested, as well.
There’s an old adage in advertising that “you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.” The same can be true on selling your kids on a day spent outside. You need to make the experience sound exciting. You’re not going on a “hike” you’re going on “an adventure walk.” You’re not “going to spend time in nature” you’re “going out to explore nature.” Your enthusiasm and creativity are going to be fundamental in getting them excited about getting out into nature.
Kids tend to get more excited about activities when they’ve been involved in the planning. If it’s a hike that you’re going on, ask them what they’d like to look for. Make a list of things to collect or a destination to get to. Pull up a map of where you’re going to hike and make a note of some of the landmarks that may be on that hike. Are you going to have a picnic in the woods? Get the kids involved in making and packing the meal and give them the task of picking out the perfect spot for your picnic. The more vested the kids are in the planning, the more fun they’ll have when you’re actually doing it.
Before you decide just how far you want to hike, ask yourself “How far am I comfortable carrying a 45 pound five-year-old once he has lost interest?”
Like any other activity, young kids are going to have a limited threshold of interest. Throw in something physically exertion, and that threshold is probably going to be a little shorter than you anticipate. If it’s one of your first times out on a hike, you don’t need to swing for the fences. It’s about the experience and not the time spent. Stay as long as it is fun for everyone involved, and don’t push your luck. Ending the foray into nature while everyone is still having fun will only increase the odds of getting them to repeat the experience. Once you’ve got a few successful outings under your belt, then you can begin to push their limits.
And last but not least…
Don’t lose focus that the point of getting out into nature is to unplug. Make sure that is exactly what you’re doing. Sure, you can pull out your phone to snap a couple pictures or videos, but remember that these experiences are about creating memories, not the perfect social media post.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Dale currently resides in the suburbs of Reading, Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife and their ever rambunctious five-year-old “Twinzers.” He graduated with a BA in Photojournalism from Point Park University in Pittsburgh in 2007. Dale’s parenting musings can be found on Twitter and Instagram under the handle @TwinzerDad