Keeping Kids in Nature: 8 Ways to Make Time for the Outdoors

Guilt.  That’s the feeling that was creeping up inside and pestering me about spending time outdoors with Bergen (2.5 years old).  Thinking that just wandering around experiencing nature is an avoidance or even a luxury.  It’s an extra saved only for when we have time.

Shouldn’t I be worried about and occupying myself with more important things? You know, household stuff.  Maintenance.  Organization.  Cleaning.  Just getting things done.

Yes, those are valid concerns, but after listening to an inspiring talk by Richard Louv, and diving into his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, I’m convinced that my instinct is correct.  While spending time outdoors is indeed a pastime, it’s not just a way to pass the time.  It’s serious business, and our health depends on it.

According to Louv, TIME is one of the top reasons kids are kept from nature.  Many of us struggle with finding enough hours in the day to accomplish all we want to accomplish, so I thought I’d share eight ways we create more outdoor time for ourselves and our son.

Keeping Kids in Nature: 8 Ways to Make Time for the Outdoors |

1. Make outdoor time a priority.

I simply put it at the top of our list, and each morning I plot and scheme for how it can best be fit into our day depending on the other things we have going on. I do this because I know when we have outdoor time, we feel better, our moods are more pleasant, we learn, we grow, and we spend quality time together.  And one more reason: Sleep–it always comes easily after lots of time outdoors.

2. Turn off the T.V.

Simple really, but we just don’t make that huge rectangular screen staring at us in the living room a central or important part of Bergen’s day. I’ll admit that it’s a way for Slaed (husband) and I to wind down in the evening (when the little guy is asleep), but Bergen can literally go days without watching. He does watch T.V., but we don’t make it a routine. Less T.V. means more time to do other things…like, get outside.

3. Make a plan and “schedule” it.

If “to-do” lists help you get things done, then make nature time part of that list. You can even write an appointment into your calendar, and better yet, make that appointment daily! When the time is already set on the schedule, it’s easy to work around it and figure out how it’ll best fit into your day.

4. Develop a routine and form habits.

Set a default.  Our default routine is to walk every afternoon after Slaed gets home from work.  Because this time is important to him, he goes into work at the crack of dawn freeing up time in the late afternoon. We’ve had this routine for years and it’s often the highlight of our day.

Keeping Kids in Nature: 8 Ways to Make Time for the Outdoors |

5. Build in nature time to errands and other outings.

On the blog, I call these “Built-in Adventures”.  When we have more of a chore that needs to get done like a shopping trip or special errand, I figure out how we can work in outdoor time close to that particular location.  Often this means checking out a park, trail or green space that we’ve yet to discover. There is research and preparation involved, but the resulting time to explore something new is worth the extra effort.

6. Coordinate your Exercise to Include Outdoor Time.

We’ve tried to join gyms, but even in rainy Seattle, it never really works out. We don’t spend enough time there to justify the expense, and the reason we don’t spend time at the gym is because we choose to exercise outside instead.

Having a dog also makes this an easier choice for us (he needs exercise too and can’t come to gym with us). Those walks we take every afternoon? We usually log 3-4 miles and along with the rain, there’s no shortage of hills to get the heart pumping. So the dog gets exercise, we get exercise, AND we get time outdoors: win-win-win.

7. Don’t worry about what the experience “looks like”.

This outdoor time doesn’t need to be an extravagant, grand adventure that includes a 10-mile round trip hike in the most glorious mountain range.  Sometimes our outdoor time is just going in the backyard and looking for bugs, or walking two blocks to a favorite tree.

Keeping Kids in Nature: 8 Ways to Make Time for the Outdoors |

8. Any amount of time is better than none.

Along with not worrying about what the nature time looks like, the actual time logged outside shouldn’t be the top concern.  Of course, the more time the better, but just getting out there is a start and will create habits. Even when appointments and work meetings get in the way of our outdoor time, we still go, and still see the benefits.

What’s keeping you from nature?

How do you make time for the outdoors?

Please share.

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9 thoughts on “Keeping Kids in Nature: 8 Ways to Make Time for the Outdoors

  1. Those are some great tips, Kate! Will share on FB tomorrow. Time is definitely my biggest barrier to getting outside but my rule is at least one hour outside every day, regardless of weather. During weekdays, we do it right after the girls get home from daycare/school in the afternoon. As you say, making it part of your routine is really important, or it’s easy to let it slide…

    • Thank you so much, Linda! I love the idea of having a certain amount of time that you set aside. Great thing to strive for…seems like many others find time to be a huge factor.
      I wonder if the process of bundling up, getting shoes/boots on, and all the accessories is a barrier for families too?

  2. Love that book by Richard Louv – so many good quotes in there. And no I never feel guilty about being outside!! Feel a bit guilty about how little gets done around the house BUT I’m sure my partner will get over it (one day 😉 ) Some great tips & I do love that pic of your boy & your favourite tree – pretty sure that would be ours if it was a little closer 😉

    • Thank you, Kate! Ahhh, that’s probably a better way to put it, guilty for the lack of housework/chores, rather than guilty for being outside. I like your perspective.

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