Passion for the outdoors is something that my parents and grandparents fostered since I was a child. I learned to wonder which animals left the tracks in the snow; marvel at the precise way that ants organize to carry a leaf as if following GPS coordinates; imagine the shapes that clouds are trying to make and not equate the bait on my fishing hook with terms like eww or yuck.
Teaching kids to understand, appreciate and even enjoy the outdoors is a gift that will stay with them forever, but It is getting harder to compete with technology for their attention.
By tapping into the curiosity of kids, you can inspire their interest in the outdoors. Below are 25 activity suggestions to get you started, but first, let me share why I know this works.
I recently visited Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where more than 400 free workshops and excursions, open to all ages, focused on everything from hiking and wilderness photography to kayak fishing and Appalachian music. While wandering the exhibit hall, I stumble on the Tennessee State Parks booth where three little girls working the crowd ask if I would like to hold a small, injured screech owl. As I place my arm out to hold the tiny creature, barely bigger than a newborn kitten, the little girls tell me that he is blind in one eye after being hit by a car and share the details of his rehabilitation.
Next, they ask if I want to hold the large and majestic barred owl keeping post nearby, blending in with the backdrop of an outdoor collage of the Great Smoky Mountains. The little girls teach me how to carefully place my arm beneath the owl’s large talons as he steps onto me, gripping my forearm with committed pressure. It is fascinating being so close to this owl that I’ve only ever heard in the trees. The little girls mimic his call which sounds like, “who cooks for you,” to teach me how to distinguish this owl from others in the forest.
I am so impressed with these young ladies – their knowledge and interest in the animals and their appreciation of our natural resources. Upon thanking them for their expertise, I learn that these little girls are not formally associated with the exhibit; they just stopped by one day to pet the cute screech owl, and they never left. Their curiosity blossomed and they stayed to learn more to the point of being semi-experts on these owls. My guess is, these little girls will look for the great barred owl or tiny screech owl the next time they take a hike, or be inspired to hike by their interest in searching for their new favorite animals. Either way, they have a new reason to love the outdoors.
This brief interaction taught me that inspiring children to get outdoors means engaging their curiosity by giving them an activity to inspire wonder. If you want to compete with technology, expose your child to the only thing that can compete with it –reality.
Here are 25 outdoor activities to get their curiosity revved:
- Look for tadpoles in a creek bed
- Identify shapes in clouds
- Go horseback riding
- Take an archery class
- Go for a hike and identify trees
- Catch fireflies
- Go fishing
- Have a picnic
- Build a campfire (with s’mores of course!)
- Look for four-leaf clovers
- Have a scavenger hunt
- Build a garden
- Identify animal tracks in the woods
- Whittle a twig with a pocket-knife (adult supervision please)
- Bike along a multi-use park trail
- Make a whistle out of a blade of grass or an acorn
- Climb a tree
- Use a bird book to identify local species in the woods
- Start a rock or fossil collection
- Skip stones in a creek
- Go camping
- Flip over rocks to see what’s living under them
- Take nature photos
- Try Geocaching