Whether you love or loathe the outdoors yourself, encouraging our kids to embrace nature and all that it has to offer is a great life lesson. Spending time outdoors is not only good for our physical and mental health, but also teaches children resilience, kindness, patience and an appreciation for the simple things in life.
So, how do we raise our children to be outdoor-lovers? Here, I’ve provided five ways to turn little indoor remote-hoggers into outdoor critter-cravers.
Embrace all weathers
As adults, it is natural to refer to weather as either good or bad. So many times I’ve found myself saying “the weather’s going to be great today – Shall we get out for a walk?” More recently I’ve stopped myself from talking about cold or wet weather in a negative way. Instead, we now try to embrace all weathers. How do you do this? Change your language and find fun and interesting ways to get outdoors, no matter the weather.
For example, if it’s raining, why not find your nearest puddle and have fun with a toy duck or boat? If it’s windy, you could make a simple kite with string, paper and ribbons, and watch how it twists and turns in the wind. If it’s snowing, consider making snow angels, snowmen or even set up a snowy playscape with penguins, polar bears and eskimos. There’s fun to be had in all weathers and our only real restriction is our imagination.
Mind your language
Let’s face it; children learn by watching, listening and mimicking those around them. My 21 month old daughter Indie is a little sponge and soaks up everything, and I mean everything, that I say. With this in mind, there are certain things I try to avoid saying when we’re spending time playing outside. These include “don’t get dirty”, “I’m scared”, “don’t touch that”, “that’s gross”, “leave that alone”.
Of course, fear is a healthy defense mechanism that prevents us from getting hurt, but, really, we should reserve it for times when our children are actually in danger. Instead, I try to use positive language to talk about what’s around us. It’s also okay to have boundaries and teach our children to respect nature, by not picking flowers, killing insects, kicking toadstools, and so on.
Hang out with outdoor lovers
There is a famous quote that says “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”, and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to getting outside. It’s often easier to stay inside in the warm with our creature comforts around us, but we can increase our odds of getting out there by spending time with like-minded families.
I’m really lucky to have friends who share the same motivations as me, when it comes to getting outdoors. Lockdown aside, some of our favourite playdate memories have involved mud kitchens, rolling around in the leaves or feeding the ducks. Plus, if my daughter sees other children enjoying themselves outside, then it gives her the confidence to do the same. If you’re looking to meet other outdoor-loving families in the area, then mama meet-up apps, like Peanut and Mush, are fab.
Dress for the occasion
The key to raising your child to love the outdoors is to create positive associations. Let’s be honest, though; that’s almost impossible if your child is uncomfortable or in pain. I’ve made many a strategic error, when it comes to dressing Indie weather-appropriately. On those occasions, play dates have ended in tears (usually hers, but mine once or twice, too).
Nowadays, I’m more (over) prepared. I’ve learned that Indie feels the cold more than I do, so she always wears an extra layer than me and we always keep a hat, gloves, extra thick coat and puddle suit in the car, just in case. My favourite recent purchase are these waterproof dungarees. You can layer them up with a thick coat when it’s cold or pair them with a t-shirt when the weather is warm for water play.
If we’re only driving two minutes down the road, then I dress Indie head to toe in all her layers, but if we’re headed further out then I’ll layer her up one we arrive, so that she doesn’t overheat in the car.
Read nature books
One way to inspire your children to love the great outdoors is to read stories about nature, wildlife, weather and outdoor adventures. You don’t always have to be outdoors to create positive associations with it. Indie has a number of beautiful nature books and it’s incredible to see her pointing out and referencing things she’s read about when we’re enjoying time outside. A few of our favourites include:
If all else fails and the cold weather and dirt gives you the ick, then just blag your way through and fake it ‘til you make it. Yes, children are pretty good at reading our behaviours but instead of lying, I prefer to think of it as harnessing the power of my imagination.
Does your little one have a natural love of nature or is this something you’re working on? If you have any of your own ideas or tips, we’d love to hear them.