We all want our kids to feel a connection with nature and the world around them, but unfortunately in an age of smartphones, tablets and consoles, playing outdoors can sometimes be seen as a chore or even worse, a punishment. With the rise of city living and more cars on the roads, there is just not as much opportunity for safe outdoors fun as there was 30 years ago.
If you do a quick search on how to encourage your kids to play outdoors, a wealth of Pinterest-based articles will tell you that you need at least a stack of craft supplies, plastic toys like buckets and spades and more to entertain them, and that’s before you even get to the challenge of catching Pokemons!
I’m all for taking the crafts outdoors, but I believe it’s important to allow children to play without much interference from us. Let them get bored, let their attention wander, so they can ultimately start thinking more creatively about their surroundings. Soon enough they’re building dens, digging holes, and going on great adventures or imagining a world of fantasy all around them.
As a city-living family, we try to fit regular outdoor play into our daily lives, but the best opportunity to do that we find is often when we go camping – with so many beautiful natural landscapes right on our doorstep here in the UK, it’s tempting to get away as often as we can.
Some might think that camping is a daunting thing to do with small children, but although there are challenges involved, it really needn’t be too difficult as long as you’re prepared. Children adapt to new situations and environments incredibly well, and when you place them in a natural playground they love it.
Halford’s have just released a brilliant new camping guide, which you can download for free on their website. Full of tips ranging from how to find the UK’s best family camping spots and tips on camping abroad, tips on how to choose a tent (not as easy as you might think!), to delicious camping recipes, and even a handy camping checklist to help make sure you don’t forget anything like wipes, spare batteries or bug spray.
I think they’ve really got it covered when it comes to family camping advice, so instead of providing my own set of tips, I’m sharing some ideas on how to help kids fall in love with the outdoors while camping.
1. Let them go wild
We’re often advised not to take our eyes off our kids for a second outside the house, but I would suggest giving them a little more leash when camping, and letting the kids play freely. Tent camping is perfect for this, as being so close to nature will awaken their awareness of it and entice them to go and explore on their own. Obviously you don’t want them running out of earshot, or out of sight when you’re near water, but I find children are quite happy with some clear boundaries.
2. Stargazing in PJs
Regardless of your age, there are few things more exciting than wearing your PJs outdoors, especially in the dark! (Though head-teachers often disagree if you wear them on the school-run). There’s no better way to make an adventure of your camping trip than by allowing your kids to stargaze in their pyjamas, sitting around the fire telling stories and singing songs. For an extra treat, try sneaking a bit of Americana into your trip by roasting some marshmallows!
3.Build a den
Learning how to build a den is one of the most exciting things kids can do outdoors, creating an imaginary world, a toy, and a hiding place all at the same time! Depending on their age, you can help them by collecting sticks of all sizes for their great big project!
4. Go on a nature hunt
Do some research before your camping trip, and then draw up an activity sheet with local fauna and flora for them to identify – you could get the children involved beforehand, so they get excited about the prospect of seeing it all in real life. Then plan a big expedition to try and ‘catch ’em all.’ This activity will keep kids naturally exploring their surroundings, touching different textures, and maybe even learning a thing or two in the process.
5. Get arty!
Inspire your children to produce their own works of art by collecting various stones, conkers, leaves, feathers and twigs, cleaning them and getting creative with them. You can try making collages and patterns, or if you’re really ambitious and have a lot of small flat stones nearby, create a collection of story rocks (think story cubes) that can be later used to play as a family. Just remember to bring a few craft basics such as string, paint and brushes, and glue – stuff that can be easily fitted into a small tupperware box.
I hope we’ve inspired you to let your kids be kids, and fall in love with the outdoors. It’d be great to hear from you about how you help get your children to have fun outdoors!
nb: This post has been written in collaboration with Halfords.