by Mickey Mansfield
There was a study done in 2011 by the Nature Conservancy that found that kids are spending much more time indoors and online than they are in nature. The study also found that kids who had more frequent outdoor experiences said that they would prefer being outside instead of in the house. This really comes as no surprise given the rise in technology, but it did get me thinking about what that might mean for my own kids.
I spent a lot of time outdoors growing up. We were a camping family and I grew up learning a lot about nature and how to navigate the world outside the safety of our home’s walls. It was fun and exciting, and most importantly, it gave me a chance to test boundaries and limits that helped me grow. Those experiences helped shape who I am as a person and who I am as a father.
So, with those thoughts in mind, I began a mission to spend more time outdoors with my kids. Hiking together became our thing and has taught us a lot about each other and our environment. When a friend recently asked why I take my kids hiking, I explained that there were a lot of reasons, but that these three were key.
HIKING IS GOOD EXERCISE.
Let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger and anything I can do to stay physically active is a plus. Hiking allows me to get in regular exercise while modeling it for the kids. They not only see me working out, they’re a part of it too. Their little bodies need to move and this is a great outlet for them.
I WANT THEM TO LEARN ABOUT NATURE.
We always pack a small nature guide and blank journals in our backpacks when we go hiking. When the kids are curious about the plants and birds we encounter, it’s helpful to be able to stop and identify things right away. When we take a rest, if they want to, they can sketch out or write down what we’ve seen. I don’t make them, because the whole point of the hikes is to enjoy nature – not get overwhelmed with things they have to do. In the study I mentioned above, they found that kids who had more outdoor experiences became better advocates for conservation and the environment. I want my kids to care about the world around them and the more they’re exposed to it, the deeper their investment.
IT’S TERRIFIC BONDING TIME.
While we sometimes go hiking as a family, I like to take the kids individually or in pairs too. As they get older, I want to make sure that we have a strong bond and they feel comfortable talking with me about anything. There’s something about being out in nature, with nothing else around, that breaks down those walls and makes it easier to talk. I hope that by instilling a love for hiking now, it will make it easier to keep the bonds strong during those tough teenage years.
Hiking isn’t the answer to all of life’s ills, but getting out in nature can certainly change your perspective. For me, it’s less about the actual hiking and more about the exposure to fresh air, the outdoors, and time with my kids. I hope they never stop wanting to go.