Photo by Jenn Evelyn
Photo by Jenn Evelyn

5 things to teach kids about the outdoors

by Chad Storlie
USAA

I grew up in a small town with several strands of trees less than 100 yards away. At first, the tall pine trees were dark, foreboding and dangerous as I stared at them from my front yard.  Then, as my courage and curiosity grew together, I began sitting under the trees and watching the branches sway beneath the wind or watching clouds race by far above.  Later, I climbed those same trees or watched beetles navigate their way through a bed of pine straw.  The outdoors is a place of wonder that children need to be taught to appreciate.

Ask your kids how they feel about the outdoors and the woods?  Scary? Dark? Fun? Or unknown?  The outdoors is a way to teach children how to enjoy, appreciate, and understand something that, at first glance, can be scary and appear dangerous.  Teach your kids these lessons to know and appreciate the outdoors.

Lesson #1 – Teach Kids to Be Aware When Outside. Awareness of your surroundings outdoors is one of the best and the hardest lessons to teach.  Show kids a video game screen and they will point out to you the treasures and dangers that adults seldom see to win the game.  The outdoors is no different.  Sit or slowly walk through the woods to truly see what is outside.  How many squirrels can you see?  How do the trees themselves sway in the wind?  What does a creek sound like when you just listen?  The woods appear dangerous or mysterious when we only glance at them.  Teach children just to sit, observe, and walk slowly along a path and look up, down, and sideways.  Truly observing what is around us is the best way to see, to understand, and to appreciate the outdoors.

Lesson #2 – Teach Kids to Respect Animals. Children learn about animals from zoo’s.  A zoo provides a safe, up close, and personal learning environment with animals.  Children need to learn that while animals in a zoo are safe, they must be cautious around animals outside.   Outdoors, the best way to appreciate the wildlife are to stay still, stay at a distance, and to remain quiet as you observe the animals.  Children need to learn that the outdoors with animals and the zoo with animals are not the same, but both can be a safe, exciting, and learning experience.

Lesson #3 – Teach Kids to Dress for The Weather. Knowing how to dress in the heat, the cold, the rain, or the snow is invaluable for children.  Learning about the outdoors when you are wet, cold, or hot is an experience that no one wants.  Instead, teach children about wearing layers, learning how to move slower in the cold so you don’t sweat, and wearing light, airy clothes in the summer to remain cool are simple steps to appreciate the outdoors.  In addition, teaching kids to carry water, a jacket, a flashlight, a whistle, and several snacks reemphasizes their safety to build confidence and independence outside.

Lesson #4 – Teach Kids How to Extinguish a Camp Fire. Many forest fires start from people not putting out a campfire correctly.  A fire outdoors is a truly special experience for any family.  When the fire is done, show children how to put out a fire correctly.  Douse the fire with water until there is no smoke left, stir the ashes vigorously, and then repeat with more water.  Finally, throw dirt on the remains of the fire.  Finally, place your hand slowly on top of the fire’s remains to ensure that it is cool to the touch.  Fires are great and learning what to do after a fire to stay safe is a great conclusion to a warm evening. 

Lesson #5 – Teach Kids How to Sleep Outdoors.  Sleeping outdoors is an adventure that children never forget.  Have children pick a spot for the tent, roll out the ground sheet, place poles in the tent and then stake out the tent and rain cover.  Putting up a tent, rolling out the sleeping bag and putting a flashlight inside the tent is a key part of the experience to make it fun and not scary.  For smaller children, sleep with an adult in the tent for the first few times and use a small, LED flashlight as a nightlight.  Don’t forget a final bathroom visit, especially for the little ones, to have an uneventful night.  An adult should always sleep outside whenever kids are outside.  Teach kids never to have any food or snacks in the tent or outside the tent to keep the critters away!

Settling in after a PCS can be difficult. Exploring your new location in different ways can be fun. Give children the proper mix of knowledge, experience, and caution to truly appreciate and enjoy the outdoors. 

Share your stories of how you helped children appreciate the outdoors!

About the Author: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leaderand has published over 360 articles in over 190 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics.  Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better.  Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management.  Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.  Follow Chad @Combater and www.CombatToCorporate.com.

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