We all want our kids to grow up to be well-adjusted people who have the life skills necessary to thrive as adults. The experiences we give them in childhood can shape the people they become, and there are few greater childhood experiences than enjoying the great outdoors.
Some kids might enjoy hiking, while others may enjoy camping, kayaking, mountain biking or all of the above. Whatever their preference for outdoor activities, they’re sure to pick up some life skills that will help mold them into stronger people ready to make their mark on the world. Here are eight of the greatest benefits that kids can pick up from excursions in nature.
1. Respect for Nature
As the world continues to grapple with issues of climate and pollution, raising environmentally conscious kids is a must. Exposing kids to nature early and often helps them build a reverence for the beautiful world around us.
The leave no trace principles are a perfect example of how you can use outdoor experiences to teach a child respect for nature. These simple principles, such as keeping parks free of litter and leaving animals alone, give kids a basic framework for enjoying the benefits of the outdoors without hurting the environment or themselves.
Outdoor adventures can help a child build confidence in their own skills and abilities. Gradually introducing a child to challenging outdoor sports such as kayaking and rock climbing can help them learn that they have physical and mental skills that can be used to solve problems.
For a very young kid, just climbing a big set of stairs by themselves can be a substantial confidence booster. Older children can build lifelong positive habits and cultivate healthy self-esteem by tackling the challenges of outdoor sports. Remember to start small and let kids go at a pace they feel comfortable with—but encourage them to expand and step out of their comfort zones at the same time.
3. Systematic Thinking
Experiences in nature are a great way to teach kids about the food webs, water cycles and other ecosystem components that underpin the natural world. This helps kids understand how simple actions like littering or global trends like deforestation can have significant downstream effects. It’s a key part of raising environmentally conscious kids.
On top of that, an understanding of natural systems also helps children develop organized and systematic thinking processes. When a kid begins to understand the complex processes that make the natural world move, their general ability to understand interconnected systems increases as well.
4. Resource Conservation
Managing a finite supply of resources is a key skill for adulthood, and outdoor time offers some great opportunities to work on it. Kids can understand clearly that if you eat all of your snacks before the hike even starts, you’ll be hungry by the end. And if you drink all of your water in the first mile, not only will you be thirsty, but you’ll need to make a bathroom stop before long.
These ideas will serve kids well later in life as they navigate personal finance and master complex tasks at work. Resource conservation exercises build self-control and analytical ability. They can also foster an increased appreciation of the finite resources of the Earth and an understanding of why these resources need to be protected.
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If you want your kids to learn teamwork, give them an opportunity to work together with others while having fun outdoors. Opportunities are everywhere—for example, many outdoor sports have a significant team component. Even a relatively simple camping trip involves many skills and tasks, from fire-building to setting up the tent.
Different people excel at different outdoor skills, and that’s often part of what makes outdoor activities so fun. Working together at enjoying the outdoors with a diverse team of people who each bring something to the table is a rewarding experience, and it’s one that has real positive benefits for young people.
6. Basic Survival
Even if you live in an urban area, it’s never a bad idea for children to know how to build a fire, read a compass, identify edible plants and perform other basic survival tasks. These cornerstone wilderness skills can be lifesavers at the most unexpected times.
Joining a scouting organization or other wilderness program is a great option for many kids, as it allows them to make friends and learn survival skills at the same time. Children who master practical skills for survival and husbandry achieve a kind of independence that can’t come from being parked indoors in front of a screen–no matter how educational the programming is.
The kid who straps on their headlamp and goes hunting for months outside is often the same one who’s the first to come up with the solution to a tough problem as an adult. Outdoor life breeds a sense of curiosity in children and encourages them to try new things. Adventurous kids tend to master more skills and accumulate more knowledge, and they also find joy in life that nothing can take away.
Outdoor activities are often great ways to encourage children to make friends. Conversations struck up with a childhood sports teammate can be the foundation of lasting friendships, and the outdoor environment generally encourages kids to mix and mingle in a way that helps shy kids come out of their shell. Whether it’s on the playground, on the sports field or out in the woods, outdoor activities and healthy friendships go hand in hand.
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Nature is the best teacher of all, and the sooner you allow your kids to start learning its lessons, the sooner they’ll reap the benefits. Whether it’s hiking, organized sports or bird watching, encourage your children to find their own paths into the outdoors and to explore everything that it has to offer.