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Getting my nature newbies to go outside

The weather is warm and beautiful and unseasonable. Birdsong fills the air. The daffodils are up. I want my kids to go outside and take it in. This is the beauty of their planet in the spring.

What they want to do is to stay inside and watch their devices. Outside is boring, they tell me. Outside is too __________ (windy, hot, cold, buggy, sunny, overcast, fill-in-the-blank with an objection). When my children shy away from the open door, part of me shrivels and dries up. I thought I was raising explorers. And they are, but not of the real world. It makes me sad. To me, the real world is so fabulous (minus deer ticks and sea nettles.)

As a kid in the raised-by-wolves ’70s I was outdoors all the time when the weather was warm. At ten, I had my own rowboat, Crow’s Nest, that I went out in, alone, from the dock on my grandparents’ farm on the Eastern Shore. My cousins and I swarmed the place in the summer, muddy, sandy, and resembling prehistoric humans. It was the best. When I reminisce, it is about those times. I got so much Vitamin D.

[Recent studies show that most children aren’t getting enough of this essential vitamin. Being indoors all the time takes a toll on their health.]

Nature-deficit disorder, the phrase coined by Richard Luov in his 2005 book Last Child In The Woods, “directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.” Nature, landscapes and greenery are good for us, scientists are finding. Being outdoors relaxes the fevered tween brain and the fevered brains of the parents of tweens. Because: This is your brain on nature.

This spring, I am trying to get my nature newbies outdoors with:

  • Hiking (in which I bribe them to walk with chocolate-chip laden GORP and tell them “our cathedral is the woods.” So far, we’ve gone once, to Cromwell Valley Park. It was a surprise success. Next up: Soldier’s Delight.
  • Camping, someplace not light-polluted so they can be wowed by a night sky full of stars (Note to self: Purchase tent. Further note to self: Suck up my aversion to camping.)
  • Volunteering as citizen scientists for birding research projects through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The feeling of contribution to Science is real! Check out for projects you and your family will enjoy.
  • Modeling, with my own behavior being that of an interested amateur naturalist. (This sometimes backfires. Example: I found the entire skeleton of a snapping turtle on one of my walks, I told the kids to come out and see and behold its majesty with me, and I forgot entirely where I’d found it. We wandered around fruitlessly with lots of complaining; they were having no more of the bribery GORP. (Note to self: Learn woods way-finding and how to use a compass.)
  • Keeping a family nature journal.

How do you get your family off the couch? Tell us in the comment section below. 









About Elizabeth Bastos

Elizabeth Bastos is a freelance writer mother of two in the NW Baltimore suburbs. Her work has been featured in The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, McSweeney's, and The New York Times. She is at work on a book about reconnecting her children with nearby Nature. When she's not writing, she's hugely embarassing her children by looking for pigeons and animal tracks outside Target.

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