Call it cosmic irony, but it often seems that the interests of children are the polar opposites of those of their parents. So what’s a nature-loving parent to do with kids who’d rather play video games 24/7 than go outside?
Oftentimes, parents drag their kids out hiking, gardening, or for a similar outdoor activity thinking that young people should enjoy the activity for what it is like they do. But if you’re youngster isn’t buying it, perhaps it’s time to try a different tactic: use one of their interests and find a way to take it outside. Below are some examples that we here at Green Warrior Living came up with – and some have been field tested.
Find art in nature
Do you have a budding artist? Is so, why not go on art expeditions? Bring a cameras or sketchbooks and have art breaks when your child (and maybe you too) find subjects in a park, on a trail, or similar areas.
Ace and I both have witnessed how much more eager his daughter is to go on hikes and walks if she can bring a camera and go shutter crazy. Frankly, we enjoy this activity too, so sometimes our nature walks and hikes can take twice as long as they should!
Treasure hunting a la metal detector
Have a pirate lover or child otherwise in love with the idea of treasure? Get them outdoors in search of “treasure” lost over past decades. While finding random change, jewelry, and hardware isn’t exciting to everyone, some children will love it. And there are occasional stories of folks finding rare items and real treasure using this method.
A different kind of hunt: Geocaching and Letterboxing
For the kid with a techie streak, geocaching combines GPS technology with the thrill of the hunt, that is, finding hidden cache boxes with logbooks that they sign and sometimes trade small items with those who hid the box.
There are more than 2 million geocaches around the world, so it’s a good bet that there’s some near you or your vacation destinations. There are several places like this website and some state-specific sites that list geocaches to go searching for.
If you and your child are not huge on technology but like the concept of geocaching, consider letterboxing instead. It’s the same principal as geocaching but using clues provided online (though sometimes letterbox information is passed word of mouth) to find the letterbox instead of GPS coordinates. And letterboxes have stamps for you to stamp in your logbook when find a letterbox – and you can have a stamp of your own to prove you were there. Both of these activities tend to be in parks or other outdoor public areas.
Be a star man (or woman)
If your youngster is smitten with astronomy and space, perhaps searching the night sky to learn the different constellations and visible planets is a way to get him or her outside. You don’t need a fancy telescope to do this – you can use your unaided eyes or an inexpensive pair of binoculars and still find plenty in the night sky, including the North Star, Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades, Orion, and more.
And what fun would it be to grab a blanket or some folding chairs and head out at night to see what you can find? You can also watch as the different constellations come into view earlier during different seasons, making a great excuse to keep going outside!
Investigating the natural world
Still yet something else to hunt for, figuratively of course, are things like bugs, birds, native plants, and stones and minerals. Many children are fascinated by bugs and the stones they find while others may enjoy seeing the different birds and plants as they migrate and change throughout the seasons.
Small field guide books make treks to conservation areas, state parks, and similar places more fruitful and rewarding for people young and old. There’s even a wild crafting game that is a fun way to introduce children to wild plants and then you can plan field trips to put the knowledge to use.
Get the activist in action
It’s not unusual for young people to be idealists – some start getting the heart and soul of an activist early on. If your child fits this bill, perhaps you can turn this sense of activism to the environment by participating in trash pickups, Earth Day events (which are usually outdoors), or helping out in a community garden that helps feed the needy.
This is a great way to teach young people to put action behind their ideas. Plus, young people are often more adamant about righting the wrongs of the world than adults, and this can be used to get more outdoor time. Yes, we know it’s sneaky.
Join in on the survival mania
Survival shows are all over the place, and if your young person is fascinated with them, perhaps you can encourage them to go outdoors to learn some survival skills. I can tell you that, as a kid, I loved learning how to use a pocketknife, start a fire, and other things like that. Believe it or not, this appeals to a lot of girls as well as boys!
You can pick up a basic survival book and practice the skills at home or campgrounds – or you could even find a survival skills class that allows younger people to join in.
Dive into a fantasy world
If your child likes online or tabletop role-playing games, there’s a good chance they would also enjoy LARPing, or live action role playing. Young folk generally like to dress up and role play – and let’s face it, adults do too though we may not engage in it much. LARPing is an activity that creates a fantasy world in which everyday people became heroes, villians, elves, dwarves, wizards, fighters and more. And the best part? Most LARPing events are held outdoors, often in parks or remote campgrounds.
If you have trouble finding a LARPing community in your area that works with young people, maybe you could start a small group for your child and his or her friends.
We hope this gives you some inspiration to creatively engage nature-resistant young people with the outdoors. And if you have another great idea in this same vein, please feel free to share in the comments.
Until next time, carry on, Green Warriors!