Getting your kids into nature can be tough. Between the demands of the daily grind, the lack of easily accessible green spaces in cities, and competition from electronics, getting quality time out in the fresh air can seem like an impossible chore. And this is a problem, because not getting enough “Vitamin N” has been linked to a host of childhood difficulties. Experts overwhelmingly agree that outdoor play is vital for children’s cognitive development and growth, paving the way for the development of their skills in solving problems, thinking critically, and making decisions.
How to Get Kids Outside
So we know that getting kids in touch with their wild side is important, but that still leaves us with the question of how to make it happen.
Enter Little Explorers Clubs. When Tommy and Becca Caldwell, both big outdoors enthusiasts, had children of their own, one of the issues they faced was deciding how to give their children the kinds of awesome experiences in the natural world that they themselves had had growing up. Becca’s answer? “I came up with this Little Explorers idea: basically, ‘We’re getting out, who wants to come with us?’ ”
What began with one family in Estes Park, CO has grown, little by little, into a nationwide movement of parents and caregivers carving out time for Mother Nature. If you’re lucky enough to have a Little Explorers Club near you, go on and check them out! Otherwise, if you’ve got children and an eagerness to experience those great wide somewheres, you’ve already got everything you need to start your own. Part of the philosophy of Little Explorers is letting the kids direct the action, but if you need ideas to get them motivated, here are just a few that take advantage of the last days of autumn.
Leaves, Leaves, Leaves!
Grown-ups might grumble at having to break out the rake, but fallen leaves are a surefire hit with kids of any age. Hit up a local park and let the kids loose. They can make piles of leaves to leap into, or get really creative and make leaf labyrinths. They might toss leaves at each other, or play leaf-tag—a variant of the classic game of tag, in which the player who is “it” stuffs leaves down other players’ shirts in order to tag them.
Trundling through the mud in search of the perfect carving pumpkin is a treat most kids won’t pass up, especially since there’s real fun to be had in checking out all the pumpkins that don’t make the cut. Get down and dirty with your little ones examining all the ones that have been chewed up, cracked open, or rotted through, and finding one that’s just right for you becomes that much sweeter.
The cool, crisp air of autumn practically begs for the matching crispness of a freshly-picked apple, and kids know there’s a magic to plucking them from the tree yourself that just can’t be matched. The gnarled shapes of the trees against the sky, the scent of apples on the air, and the sure knowledge that the buckets of apples you’re bringing home can be made into everything from pies to cakes to jams and ciders create a completely memorable experience for kids of all ages.
Fall foliage is one of the season’s most spectacular sights, but it isn’t the only color game in town! Arm your kiddos with paper and colored pencils—or cameras, for your budding photographers—and set them searching for items of a specific color to record on their lists. The blue of the sky is easy enough on a sunny day, but can they spot bluebirds or Stellar’s jays? Or the orange and brown of a woolly caterpillar?
A rainy day doesn’t have to cancel your plans—get outside anyway! Playing in the rain is itself a novel experience for too many kids, and the world outdoors becomes wholly different in a drizzle (or a downpour!). Get them geared up and let them splash around to their heart’s content. Help them see what changes rain brings to the land, using all their senses to explore their environment.