Family & Education

5 Ways to Keep Your Kids From Saying ‘I’m Bored!’ Outside

BY Danielle Harris TIMEFebruary 20, 2022 PRINT

In an effort to escape the suffocation of being indoors all day, you’ve packed up the kids and headed to your nearest trail, park, or open space. After you’ve applied sunscreen or layers of clothing, leashed the dog, strapped the baby in the stroller, and embarked on that healthy activity called “getting outside,” one of the kids whines, “I’m tired. When can we go back to the car?” … or “There’s nothing to do here. Let’s go home!”

You slammed the minivan door shut just 15 minutes ago. What do you do next?

Nothing is more disheartening to a parent than making the Herculean effort to get kids outside only to have the initial excitement fizzle into complaints. While most parents agree that being outside is healthy, they often struggle from getting pushback from their children. And they can’t understand why. Boomers, Gen X-ers, and most Millennials can remember rollicking outside for hours as kids without any coordination or motivation from their parents.

The iGeneration, on the other hand, can’t remember a time when an entertainment center wasn’t within reach of their fingertips. The result is that today’s youth might seem helpless when it’s time to “go play outside,” much to their parents’ dismay.

Forgoing the outdoors isn’t an option, however. Not only are children missing out on adventures in the great outdoors, but there’s also mounting evidence that lack of “green time” is detrimental to children’s health. Spending time in nature helps kids’ brains function, improves attention spans, and lessens anxiety. These benefits are especially important for children with attention deficit disorder or struggling with depression, both of which are on the rise in the United States.

The next time you’re able to tear yourself and the family away from the enslaving screens, don’t give up when the resistance comes rolling in. Rather than handing the phone or iPad over in exasperation, here are five activities to jumpstart your kids into loving the outdoors.

Describe, Share, and Search

Tell your kids to get outdoors for a short distance and find something interesting. When they’ve found it, have them describe it in detail without revealing what it is. Next, you look for it, using their words as a guide. This is an excellent vocabulary-building activity, as well as a way to build interest in things outside.

Go Pishing for Small Birds

No, not fishing. Pishing. This is a trick to attract small birds to your children so that they can observe them. It’s especially effective in winter, when small birds are easier to see because they travel in flocks and the bare branches of the trees don’t hide them as well. Listen for bird calls or songs and follow them until you get close. Then, stand still and make a loud “pish-pish-pish” sound, accentuating the “shhhh.” Keep repeating it until you’ve aroused the curiosity of the little creatures and they come close to take a look at you. Later, you can identify the bird using a bird identification app or a field guide.

Look for Creepy Crawlies

Kids used to have a natural knack for this activity, but they need to be taught in today’s screen-filled world. Examine under rocks, under and inside bushes, and near the roots of trees for anything that moves. When you’ve found it, try and capture it with a clear plastic cup for observation. Because of their simple, clean body structures, creepy crawlies are excellent creatures to draw in a nature journal. When your children are done, you can take the time to identify bugs or give them a new name that they invent. By letting the creature go, you’re teaching them how to respect nature as well.

Watch the Sunrise or Sunset

In Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, a survey revealed that more than half of the nation’s children had never seen the sun rise or set. Don’t let that happen to your children. Pick a place with a view. Pack snacks, chairs, and a blanket (if needed) and wait for the first or last rays to peek over the horizon or disappear behind it. For an added challenge, watch the sunrise and sunset on the same day. Note how the sun has “moved” across the sky and sets in the opposite direction. You can also start cloud watching. Look for recognizable shapes in the clouds. Or notice the size and shapes of the clouds and identify them.

Go for a ‘Blind Walk’

Being in nature is a treat for the eyes, but sometimes we forget to experience nature with our other senses. Have your kids close their eyes and listen. Encourage them to describe what they hear. Then, move to smell. Lead them to a flower or the bark of a tree (Did you know that ponderosa tree bark smells like vanilla?) and sniff. Next, hand them natural objects that they can feel. See if they can describe the shape and texture and guess what the object is without peeking.

Children are spending far more time on screens than their parents did, and few would argue this change is for the better. So the next time you’re tempted to give in to the whining and complaining, try one of these activities instead. Before you know it, your kids will be dragging you away from your phone saying, “C’mon! We’re going to miss the sunset!”

Danielle Harris is a writer based in Central Oregon. She and her husband, Paul, homeschooled their four daughters, raising them to be birders, outdoor adventurers, and lovers of great literature, culture and travel. She’s written for magazines such as Oregon’s 1859, Portland Goodness & Family, and BirdWatching Magazine.
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