Camping & Education Foundation guides parents on unplugging and reconnecting

Parents remember childhood as a time when they ran around outside making up games with friends. Passing a love of the great outdoors on to your kids can be difficult to do when it seems like you are always busy. Today’s generation of children are more likely to be found sitting with their faces glued to a laptop, tablet or phone screen than running around outside. While these devices can be necessary for getting homework done and supplementing classroom learning with extra tutoring, a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers. Other research suggests that screen time can have lots of negative effects on kids, ranging from childhood obesity and irregular sleep patterns to social and/or behavioral issues. For parents who care deeply about the natural world, it can be challenging to pass this love on to their children.

The Camping & Education Foundation has developed programming at its summer camps that unplugs kids, freeing them from email, social media and gaming for the summer to jumpstart the kid’s starved development of independence, self-worth and other life skills. Parents can mimic this same experience at home and enhance children’s love for the natural world by following these simple tips:

  • Get children outside as much as possible: When out and about with your kids, try to get them out in nature as much as possible. This may include doing the following: sitting outside at restaurants, with weather permitting you can walk to destinations, or plan family hikes at nearby hiking trails.
  • Point out the beauty of nature: When you are outside with your children, point out all the great things that can be found in nature. By showing kids things such as weird plants or cool looking birds, parents are engaging their kids learning of the natural world.
  • Books on the great outdoors: It is important for children to be reading. Try incorporating books about the outdoors or try reading books that have a diverse or interesting setting in nature.
  • Kick them out of the house: Kids today often want to play indoors (where the electronics are); they say there’s “nothing to do outside.” Insist that they play outside—but also, give them the freedom to roam around within boundaries appropriate for their ages, so they can explore and stretch their imagination.
  • Get help from an expert.  At a certain age parents just are not cool anymore. Rather than trying to explain the perks of nature to a child who just finds you boring, take a trip and enlist the help of an expert at a local state or national park, arboretum or zoo. Give your child the opportunity to learn about the uniqueness and weirdness of nature from a park ranger or zoologist who can inspire their curiosity.
  • Discover their interests. By asking your child and finding out what activities they may be interested in, you can appeal to their interests and give them a say in how they spend their time outside. For example, if your child enjoys climbing or biking, encourage these activities and help cater to their general interest.
  • Make an appointment with Mother Nature. Soccer and gymnastics practice, mom’s night out, school festivals and friend’s birthday parties all make it on the family calendar, why not make a date with Mother Nature as well? If you make the effort to block out time in your family’s busy schedule to spend time outdoors, you will be more likely to follow through on your goal. Be sure to leave all tech gadgets in the car or at home.
  • Plan a nature craft. Send the kids outside to collect pieces of nature that can be used in a craft. This could be leaves, pinecones, twigs, nuts, seashells or pebbles. Have them use the found treasures for a craft like building a “log cabin” bird house, decorating a picture frame or have them dip the items in paint and use them as stamps on paper to create one-of-a-kind artwork.
  • Create a scavenger hunt. Have your kids invite friends over to play and organize a nature-inspired scavenger hunt. Set parameters on where the kids can go to find the items on their list. Then, break them into teams and send them out to race to complete their lists first.
  • Organize a kid-friendly extreme nature race. Gather your kids and some of their friends and head to a park for a team-based competition. Set up stations where each child must complete a task to help the team finish the challenge and move on to the next one. For example, one challenge could be Twig Soccer. One team member has to pump air into a deflated soccer ball. Once that is accomplished, the second team member must dribble the ball with his or her hands to a nearby tree where the third team member is waiting with a stick that he or she must use to hit the ball to the finish line.
  • Plan your summers with outdoors opportunities: Whether you plan a family trip to Yosemite or enroll your child in a summer camp that focuses on the natural world, just plan to get them outside. Although your kids might fight you and declare their love for the new and popular theme park, show them that exploring and learning about the world is an adventure.
  • Plan a weekend camping trip. Spending a few days and nights in the outdoors can actually be simple to plan, even if your family isn’t an outdoorsy bunch. Retailers like REI rent camping equipment and if you don’t want to sleep on the ground, renting an RV costs about as much as a hotel stay. Remember to keep things simple your first time out. Try packing sandwiches or a meal that can be eaten cold like pasta salad and tackle cooking on a future trip.  

About The Camping and Education Foundation
The Camping and Education Foundation’s mission is to develop young men and women in body and spirit through wilderness experiences that celebrate a love of the outdoors. This mission is as strong today as it was ninety years ago when Camp Kooch-i-ching first opened its doors on Deer Island in Northern MN. The Camping and Education Foundation supports Camp Kooch-i-ching and Ogichi Daa Kwe, two of the premier summer wilderness camps in North America. For more information, visit: campingedu.org.