A little nudge out the front door


Karen Horsman

Karen Horsman was the CBC national parenting columnist for more than a decade. She is passionate about helping families and children thrive. As Earth Rangers' parenting blogger, Karen is excited about sharing topics and resources to help empower the next generation of conservationists.


I was always amazed no one ever looked up. Every day, I’d climb my favourite tree in a wooded area beside a railroad track. This forest behind my grandparents’ house was my summer playground when I was kid, and oh did I love to climb trees. The higher the better! A towering oak gave me a perfect view of the commuters who departed from the train each afternoon. They would bustle along, hurrying to get home after a long day of work. I was well hidden behind the thick branches full of leaves but I hoped, that one day, someone would look up. I’d wave and congratulate them for catching me. Getting caught meant I’d have a new challenge. The hunt would begin to find another hiding spot in the sky, where once again, I’d find the prefect perch to conduct my daily scouting mission.
For me, playing outside didn’t take any planning or intention. Parenting experts are quick to point out that every generation has its own unique challenges. One issue for today’s kids is a dramatic drop in outdoor play. Thought leaders examining the reasons behind this societal change point to technology, structured activities like organized sports, and parental fears of letting their kids play outside.
The benefits of outdoor time and moving our bodies is well documented. If we’re lucky enough, our kids have access to green space and forests to connect with nature. But just being outside anywhere is said to have a variety of benefits.  How much physical activity does a child need? It’s suggested kids from three to six should be active throughout the day. From age 6 to 17, they should be active at least 60 minutes a day. If this activity takes place outside, there is an increased benefit to a child’s overall wellbeing.
Technology is immersed in our culture. It’s become a fundamental part of our lives. It’s requiring us to be more intentional about how we spend our “off hours.” It’s the same for children. Many parents are starting to introduce mandatory outdoor time. One parenting blogger suggests getting outside should be considered a necessity for kids, like a meal or good night’s sleep. 
We have loads of ideas here at Earth Rangers to help. One of our new Eco-Activities has me particularly excited. Sense Scouting is a wonderful way to help kids to connect with nature. All it requires is a notepad, pencil, and the power of observation. You and the kids can head to your favourite outdoor space and fire up the five senses. Focus on one or two to start. Once your senses start tingling, talk about what you see or smell, for example. The kids can write it down in a notebook or make a little sketch.  Considering my love affair with trees, not surprisingly, I think the Find a Tree Game is a fantastic way to intentionally connect with nature. This fun game involves taking turns being blindfolded and guided towards a tree. Then you’re led away and spun around a few times to make it challenging before your blindfold is removed. The adventure begins by trying to find your tree! How about creating your own Outdoor Orchestra? This Eco-Activity requires loads of creativity and teamwork. Head to your favourite outside space and take some time to look around for instruments. Anything is fair game. A pinecone xylophone or two rocks as cymbals perhaps? Our Creative Corner feature in the app is constantly adding new and fresh ideas to keep kids busy outside. (and loads of crafts too)!
Parenting is never a one-size fits all approach. My eldest son was not big on outdoor adventures. He’d often say to me, “Mom, I know you love hiking, exploring, and climbing trees, but I’m more of an indoor kinda’ person.” Totally fair! I still mandated outdoor time, but if he wanted to take a pass on a traipse through the forest or yet another bike ride by the lake, I learned to honour his need for being outside in his own way.  Connecting with nature may not be intuitive for everyone, but with a little intention and a gentle shift in family priorities, a whole new world of possibilities could open up for your child. Striking a balance between technology, structured activities, and fresh air is the ticket. Getting outside together is even better!