The outdoors is one of the greatest places to teach kids about the wider world and is good not just for the body, but the mind as well. Making a concerted effort to get kids out from behind their screens and into the fresh air can seem like an unwinnable challenge. Especially if you yourself struggle to get around most days due to chronic conditions as I do.
On the whole, though, the benefits will always outweigh the risks, especially for a child’s long term development. As a grandparent, you may have the time and ability to show your grandchildren the wonder of the great outdoors. I have found it to be one of our favorite things to do with our granddaughter who lives in an apartment with her parents in a small city. While they do family outings when they can, my husband and I can use our times with her to especially encourage her to be curious about nature. We are seeing her grow in love, comfort, and interest in all things to do with getting into the wild. In addition, we are building memories and bonds through our adventures that will never be erased.
However, taking a young child (we started at age two or so with her), isn’t as easy as just heading out into the woods. I’ve included four tips to make your times go smoothly so that you have an enjoyable time together as you venture outside.
Especially if you are someone living with a long-term chronic condition you must make sure to plan ahead before you go charging off into the woods. Make sure someone who can come and get you knows where you are going and how they can reach and be reached by you. Plan your route carefully so that you aren’t going to difficult to access areas that may exacerbate any problems you have that day. Plan for the weather also as you don’t want a cold and wet day to ruin any fun you may have had planned. Pack the right kit to keep the fun going.
Make it an interactive experience
Kids can get bored easily if all they are doing is walking. Plan for some interactive moments during the trip, such as bird or bug watching. Getting the kids to partake in the trip rather than just being on it is the best way for them to enjoy it and to start getting them wanting to go back. Turn the trip into a game. See who can spot the most unique birds or bugs or who can spot the most rabbits. Get them thinking about the area they’re in and they’ll come to love it.
My granddaughter loves to play make-believe. We are often superhero fairies or pirates. We just follow her lead and the storyline always is fascinating. Many times she and I hide behind a tree while grandpa searches for us. We’re ever so sneaky! We learn so much about what she thinks about and finds important during these walks in the woods.
Start small and build-up
If you are someone living with a chronic illness and aren’t used to the outdoors, you know not to go charging into the nearest forest. You don’t have to be out for hours to appreciate the wilderness. Start with taking the kids somewhere local first, such as a nearby field or walk around the block. You need to find your limits before you can start to really enjoy the fresh air. Keep your walks to 20-30 minutes then, after a while, try 45. Then an hour. Slow and steady wins the race.
We love planning for breaks. Her “Bapa” is a cookie monster. So is she. So he packs their favorite cookie so that they can have a cookie break about halfway through. If you’re on a longer adventure, having a book downloaded to your phone to read aloud is also a favorite. One fun trip involved collecting beautiful leaves of different types. Leaf Snap is one phone app that you can use to identify plants.
Pack what you need
Just like planning ahead you need to pack the essentials on your little day trips. Food, drink bad weather gear, all this needs to be taken into account before you leave the house. Are you going to be outside long enough to need medication? Are you going to need food or drink for your blood sugar levels? Do you have the means to contact someone should the need arise? What about sunglasses when out and about during summer? If you struggle carrying a large amount of weight for long periods of time then this is going to limit your outdoor trips quickly. Especially if you are out for several hours at a time.
- Small First Aid Kit with a whistle for emergency
- Water bottles and extra water or water filter & small drink mixes
- Hard or chewy candies-great for a short break
- Light lunch: Peanut butter & jelly tortilla rollups hold up well and are yummy
- Baggies for found treasures
The times we have spent outside with our granddaughter, noticing bugs, picking wildflowers, watching an eagle fly overhead, or conversing with the loons on the lake have been my favorite times with her. Sure, we play games on her tablet (have you heard of My Talking Tom games; they’re funny!) and do inside activities like coloring or baking, but our times spent outside have really been magical. And that’s the way to a kid’s heart, sharing in wonder and magic.
What are some of your favorite outdoor experiences that you have had with your children or grandchildren? Share your stories so that we can add to our idea-collections!
I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays. However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned. Thank you for your understanding.