00000147We’ve all heard the shocking statistics about the rise in childhood obesity caused by inactivity and too many snacks. “Communing with nature” at home and when you’re traveling is an ideal way to get kids moving instead of staring at a video screen. Sometimes this isn’t as easy as it used to be. These tips for getting kids to play outside can help.

Way back in the dark ages, when I ran day camps before computers and iPods existed, my young campers eagerly built forts, learned how to build bricks out of mud and picked up every imaginable bug, frog and centipede.

Today, I show 9-year-olds how to pick up tiny crabs at the beach and they yell, “I can’t do it. They’ll pinch me!” Take those same 9-year-olds into the woods and they cringe with disgust at turning over a rotting branch to discover some wiggling bugs. “Gross!” is the usual response.

Consider taking your kids tent or RV camping to be exposed to smells and textures that go way beyond a sterile, plastic computer mouse. Sleeping in a wooded area and waking up to the opportunity for hiking or wading in a creek are valuable lessons for kids. Find a nearby state park, pack a tent or borrow a neighbor’s little-used RV and get out in nature!

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Running Free

How often do we tell children “Be careful, you’ll fall”? (Sure seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy!) Many children don’t have the chance to run on grass since most playgrounds are filled with wood chips or safety padding. Find a large grassy area and play traditional games such as tag, Red Rover, Red Rover, or Red Light, Green Light. Kids enjoy the simple freedom of running outside. And remember, no warnings saying “Be careful, you’ll fall”.

Wooden Wonders

Take a nature walk, looking for unusual shapes. So often, children think all trees have a solid brown trunk with leafy branches. As you walk, ask kids to look for twisted tree trunks or branches that look like a witch’s fingernails. How many shapes of leaves can they discover? What are the different textures on tree bark? As you walk, ask each child to find 2-3 unusual small pieces of wood on the ground.

Upon returning to your campsite, talk about their selected wood shapes. Are some smooth? Are some in unique shapes? Brush off any dirt or moss and set out an assortment of paints and brushes. Watch children turn their pieces of wood into creative works of art. Maybe a narrow twig turns into a specked snake. A smooth piece of wood could be transformed into a beautiful butterfly with the addition of paper wings.

Ever Try Volksmarching?

This outdoor activity is ideal for all ages. There are more than 350 Volkssport clubs throughout the USA, and many thousands around the world. Local clubs host the walking events. The club members select a trail for safety, scenic interest, historic areas, natural beauty and walkability.

They then invite everyone to come and enjoy it on a weekend or a weekday evening.  The trails are marked or maps provided. Trails may be in cities, towns, parks, forests, rural areas, anywhere there is a pleasant or interesting place to walk. Contact your local chapter and ask when a hike will take place in your area close to a park with camping facilities. Children enjoy following the markers designating the course. A Volksmarch has a festive atmosphere with people walking, kids skipping and babies getting pushed in strollers. www.ava.org

Add interest to an ordinary hike with some of these variations:

  • Have pre-schoolers with you? Give each child a piece of colored paper. As you hike through your campground, see how many objects he or she can find to match their color. On other days, give young children paper cut into a shape or circle. Help them find objects in nature that match their shape.
  • Bring along paper and some peeled crayons. Occasionally stop to let children place the paper on top of the sidewalk or a tree to create a rubbing. Try to identify the objects when you get back.
  • Don’t let a little rain stop you. An everyday walk takes on a new experience as children walk through mud puddles. Let children squish mud between their fingers. How about making a few mud pies? After all, campground restrooms and RV’s all have soap and water to clean up a few muddy hands.
  • Outdoor camping is an opportunity for children to experience a whole new environment that offers more than video games with plastic joysticks. Take advantage of nature by incorporating bugs, trees and mud into your camping experience.