When my boys turned 1 and 3, we had a small birthday party for them at the local arboretum. We played, wound our way through a hedge maze, and then settled under a huge tree for a picnic lunch. The kids ran under the long sweeping branches, ducking in and out of sight behind the leaves and hiding behind the massive trunk.
It was such a lovely and memorable day that the tree became part of our lives. We visit the tree every time we go back to the Arboretum. “Let’s go see Birthday Tree!” my boys exclaim as they race toward the familiar spot.
We have visited the tree countless times since that birthday party nearly 10 years ago. We picnic under the tree, give it a hug, sit and stare at it for awhile, trying to notice something that has changed. Is that branch a bit longer? Don’t the leaves look fuller?
Our time with the tree helps us connect as a family, but we also connect with something bigger than ourselves. It is so important for our children to feel a connection with the outside world. With many kids spending an average of 56 hours a week on devices, we need to help them get out and experience the real world.
What the experts are saying
Richard Louv, author of the incredibly important book, Last Child in the Woods, argues that nothing can compare to nature in terms of stimulating all of ones senses at the same time. Video games and TV just can’t compare when it comes to the multi-sensory experience of being out in nature. No one is worried about screen time becoming a thing of the past, but our time spent in nature seems to be decreasing too rapidly.
But, what can we do outside?
Take a tour of the parks in your area–one new one every week. Make a map, plan it out, rate which ones you like best.
Revisit the same spot in nature every month. Exploring the same area periodically will allow you to really notice the seasonal changes. What is happening with the trees? the ground? what animals do you see or hear? What clothes are you wearing?
Pick a theme for a family hike. See if you can find all of the colors of the rainbow in one outing. Pay attention to the sounds you hear, too. Try a silent hike, then talk about what you heard when you are finished.
Have a picnic in your own backyard. Invite friends. Play games.
Adopt a tree like we did. Give it a name and visit periodically.
If you feel like your kids need more time outside, then make a commitment to finding ways to get them there. You only have to go as far as your own backyard or local park to make it happen. In our over-scheduled world, it is so vital to make time for free play–especially in nature. I’d love to know what you try! Drop me a line.