In all honesty, with my house still lined with cardboard moving boxes, camping was not at the top of my priority. When my dad burst into a rendition of a song entitled (I kid you not) “We’re Going Camping Now!”, I admit to replying with a chipper, “Whether we like it or not!” I could barely find underwear for everyone. I’d been in some form of transitional housing for the last year. Let’s go sleep in a tent without a shower!
But as we wove through the mountains, I had to admit that maybe it was good this was blacked out on the calendar. How long had it been since I’d been able to tell everyday life “Stop. For right now, just stop”?
My sheepishness reached its hilt the next day when my kids’ skin was glittering and shivering as they picked their way through the river, counting rainbow trout and daring each other to duck beneath the current. Their courage and confidence mounted before my eyes. The spikes of pine behind them were stunning; the rock formations solid and timeless.
Later, my extended family swapped warm jackets and fanned our hands before the fire beneath more stars than I’d ever seen. And I was thankful. Thankful for what was there—but also for what wasn’t. Our phones were out of juice; makeup was nonexistent; my hair was wrangled into a bandanna. Simple didn’t mean easier, but it was certainly simpler. Because of that, it was suddenly more connected with others. And with God, too.
Outdoors–the God-art we live within—changes us. And it changes our kids. Here are five reasons to boot our kids outdoors this summer…and maybe, to follow them.
It cultivates quiet and delight.
Being outdoors cultivates a more natural pace of mind; of life. I’ve written before about Dr. Dan Siegel’s important research regarding our kids’ need for “white space” in their schedules simply to cope wisely and mindfully with life.
Children who experience a lack of programmed activity are given an opportunity to demonstrate creativity, problem solving, and to develop motivational skills that may help them later in life. Are we really doing our children a service by removing quiet, unstructured time from their lives?
Screen time is constantly training our kids’ brains toward shorter attention spans. The American Association of Pediatrics has advised no more than two hours of screen time per day. More than that has shown connections to anxiety and depression in kids—and cannot be compensated for with physical activity. Siegel remarks,
If repeated experiences actually change the physical architecture of the brain, then it becomes paramount that we be intentional about the experiences we give our children.
Richard Louv writes in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
These ecstatic moments of delight or fear, or both, “radioactive jewels buried within us, emitting energy across the years of our lives,” as Chawla eloquently puts it, are most often experienced in nature during formative years.
Don’t we want those “radioactive” experiences of delight to fuel our kids’ minds, their curiosity, their creativity?
I’m concerned about the spiritual effects of my kids’ pace of life, too. What if I raise children who in the end, can’t be quiet for long enough periods to quiet themselves—and listen to God?
Outdoors is God’s canvas; it breeds fascination and joy of him. It cultivates our curiosity, peace, wonder, and smallness of self.
We naturally work a little harder with our bodies and minds.
Another vivid lesson we recalled from Africa: Simpler doesn’t mean easier. The riverbed my kids horsed around in this trip wasn’t smooth. Our tent was not climate-controlled. We had to heft our own water like 43% of the world.
Perhaps this is a jump—but I associate this with kids being less entitled. Rather than everything being pre-packaged happiness for them, they have the reward and character of working hard; of cultivating their own environment. Thus…
They develop courage and confidence.
These are the gifts our kids gain through experiences that reiterate, You can. Today at a family reunion, my boys participated in their first-ever baseball game, on a field filled with relatives cheering them on, telling them to choke up and pull down their elbows, and getting dirty and smelly. It was great! (They’ve been asking all day if they can do it again tomorrow.)
A couple of years ago, a father and friend of a newly teenaged boy asked my husband about ways to help his son overcome some persistent fear. My husband recalled that one of his greatest confidence-builders as a teen was all the time he and his dad spent outdoors. When you’re outside, you’re so often conquering something. They certainly did: most of Colorado’s fourteeners (14,000+ ft. peaks), snow caving, snowshoeing, cycling, kayaking. Meanwhile, all those little battles were making my husband a man.
It betters our minds and bodies in ways we rarely anticipate.
Louv writes that children in a “ ‘green’ day care, who played outside every day, regardless of weather, had better motor coordination and more ability to concentrate.” And later he remarks, “On average, the greener a girl’s view from home, the better she concentrates, the less she acts impulsively, and the longer she can delay gratification.” Want more?
Other studies show even viewing green space reduces stress.
- The Smithsonian reports that after looking at nature scenes, people are kinder and more charitable; green spaces in cities are also correlated with less aggression and violence!
- Those who move to cities with more green space tend toward more creativity, greater concentration (check out these results regarding ADHD kids who play outside), and less anxiety and depression, lasting more than three years after relocation.
- Green spaces also boost healing and reduce obesity.
- Back to playing outside—it builds kids’ immune systems.
- Walking increases creative production.
- It’s not just for kids. Going outdoors shows indications of helping us age better, with less aches and complaints, and less dementia.
- Being outdoors in nature, while scientists still aren’t sure why, tends to make us happier.
- The Guardian reports, “Free and unstructured play in the outdoors boosts problem-solving skills, focus and self-discipline. Socially, it improves cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include reduced aggression and increased happiness.”
- It even improves kids’ test scores.
Ready to get out there? In the comments section, I’d love to hear your off-the-beaten-path ideas to get your family outside.
Like this post? You might like
 Seigel, Dr. Dan and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson. No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Bantam Books (2014), p. 42. Kindle edition.