When you were growing up, did you have a great deal of freedom to explore? I listen to books like The Sugar Creek Gang with my children now, and I am astonished at how much freedom the children of by-gone eras had. Even I had much more freedom then I feel it is safe to give my own. I think this is has to do with increasing moral decline. Should my own thirteen-year old daughter go traipsing through the woods at Grandma’s house by herself as I did at her age, I would be much more concerned for her safety from men then her safety from snakes, coyotes, and wild dogs. In my youth those were the chief dangers.
Even so, children need to be outside exploring. Last Child in the Woods and A Charlotte Mason Companion are both excellent and completely different books about the benefits of children exploring the great outdoors. As a mom, the big question I have is “How do I get my children exploring outside safely?”
Family Outings: We are big proponents of the family hike. Trips to the beach, the trails, or the local Civil War battlefields are a chance for your children to explore within the safety of a family group. Even when I take my children on a walk around the neighborhood I teach them to stop and examine the lizard, observe the hawk, or study a unique flower. October is the perfect month to get outside and explore.
Safety in Numbers: I am much happier to send my older children outside to explore if they will be in a group. I know this is not a perfect protection but it is much, much safer then exploring alone.
Clothing Safety: These days ticks are a huge threat to children. Lyme disease is epidemic in our area and can be devastating. That’s why kids should wear long pants, socks with shoes, and hats whenever possible if we are going exploring. I’m not the best example of this, my sensory kids wearing long pants on a hot day would mean that hiking never happens. We love to get cheap rain boots for activities like creeking (climbing around in a creek and collecting or examining whatever you find) and rain play.
Cub Scouts: My oldest son has gotten most of his experience with camping from Cub Scouts. Cub Scout camping is like the perfect blend between family outings and safety in numbers.
Set an Example: Children imitate their parents. If you are outside enjoying the world God has given us, your children are much more likely to follow suit. If you are sitting on the couch watching television, guess where your children will be? Sometimes your efforts will not come to fruition during their childhood either. My Dad made us garden with him, walk with him and fish with him growing up; but it wasn’t really until we were adults that our love for nature blossomed.
Be Inspired: Books, art, and the nature journals of real scientists are all excellent sources of inspiration to get your kids up and moving outside. School studies offer a chance to create connections between the outside world of your children and science. Inspiration can work both ways. What you study can inspire you to get outside, and what you see outside can inspire you to study… During our recent study of birds, my six-year-old exclaimed with great excitement: “Mom, I just saw a bird like that at the beach!” and “Mom, this bird was on our bird feeder this morning!”