How To Truly Engage With Nature On Your Next Family Camping Trip
Nature deficit disorder has come to be the zeitgeist of the new millennium, with children under the age of nine spending around 7-1/2 hours in front of electronic media and only enjoying only four to seven minutes of unstructured play a day. This is NOT okay! One way to combat this is to take a family camping trip. In this post, we suggest several ways to make the most of your trip so that your kids will love it so much, they will want to do it all over again as soon as they get home.
For Richard Louv, author of the best-selling Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, the human costs of alienation from nature include “diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, a rising rate of myopia, child and adult obesity, Vitamin D deficiency, and other maladies.”
If you have decided to rebuild your own and your children’s bond with Nature, you will be bestowing them with a host of benefits, both physical and mental.
Keeping it active
One of the best things about a family camping trip is the variety of sports and active pursuits the experience offers.
Opt for a camping trip near a lake or sea, where you can kayak, stand-up paddle, or go for long walks to follow the course of a river, or visit a pine reserve, which will require you to trek up to vertiginous heights to enjoy the lush beauty of trees.
Numerous studies have shown that exercise outdoors not only burns calories, but also boosts the mood and increases vitality. Studies have also shown that people report greater enjoyment when exercising outdoors.
Forest bathing and mindfulness
‘Shinrin-yoku’ may sound new to you, but it is actually a big long-time pastime in Japan, owing to its potent health benefits.
Also known as ‘forest bathing,’ the practice has been found to boost the immune system, improve the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, lower depression and anxiety, and promote mental relaxation.
Forest bathing is easy for people of all ages and is an excellent activity for your family camping trip. All you need to do is walk through a forest setting and open your sense to the beautiful sights, sounds, and textures around you. The aim is to keep the mind ‘in the here and now’, and to slowly enjoy the majesty of the surroundings.
In a 2017 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, shinrin-yoku (or ‘forest bathing’), was found to produce “a reduction in human heart rate and blood pressure and an increase in relaxation for participants exposed to natural settings.”
One of the best ways to make a family camping trip fun is by playing games, or better yet, setting up a competition for the whole family.
Hide clues around your camping site that will lead the winner to a prize. Make your kids work for the information by hiding clues behind trees or on branches. Offer a Gold, Silver, and Bronze prize (or more prizes), so that all kids get a treat or toy for their efforts.
Setting up a circuit
If you are an assiduous circuit trainer at the gym, then you know how intense a workout can be. A lighter circuit can be an entertaining way to get your kids to interact with nature on your family camping trip.
Set up a fun circuit outdoors by placing obstacles kids have to run around, jump over, and crawl under. Be creative, using trees to tie canvasses to so that kids can get up close to them.
Involve the kids in post-circuit cleanup to pick up any material you used for these activities (including cloth, ropes, etc.).
A night time star gazing session
The stars never shine brighter than when you’re on a family camping trip in the forest—and, now is a great time to get kids excited about the planets and constellations.
There are many excellent telescope options for less than $300. Opt for a model that is compact and easy to grab and go, with smooth motion for easy tracking of celestial objects.
Free play is key
Fascinating research carried out by scientists in Norway found that “free and spontaneous play functions as a key to more bodily, emotional and sensuous interaction with nature in contrast to when children are engaged in numerous planned activities.” The researchers suggested that raising awareness about the importance of spontaneous play was important if children were to build a truly meaningful relationship with nature.
Another U.S. research suggests that children are not only being raised indoors, but are increasingly being confined to smaller spaces (such as pushchairs, high chairs, and car seats). While safety is undoubtedly important for smaller children, it is also important to allow children to wander into open spaces at times, under adult supervision, of course, within a natural setting.
On your next family camping trip, allow kids to simply run around and discover all the fun things about the forest—bugs, the sound of leaves crunching beneath their feet, the feel of bark or the welcoming shade of an ancient tree.
Discussing environmental issues
Older kids and adolescents may be interested in knowing about issues affecting the natural spaces they are in. It is important to stress the fact that your child is a stakeholder in the Planet’s future.
As noted in the report “Effective approaches to connect children with nature,” “Research has shown the importance of nurturing a sense of competence, or sense of self-efficacy, and taking children’s participation seriously.”
If children are concerned about specific issues, encourage them to take action in a way they feel comfortable about, and one that enables them to feel a greater sense of purpose.
When are you taking your family camping trip?
To engage kids in nature, it’s as simple as taking them into natural settings more often and a family camping trip is one of the best ways to do this!
Remember…plan fun games and activities, but allow them to make decisions and enjoy free play as well. Your time together will not only boost their physical and mental health, but also enable them to feel a personal connection to, and responsibility for, the world around them.
And, being immersed in nature together as a family will create lifelong memories that you will treasure forever!