Monday, January 25

5 Great Ways to Get Kids Out in Nature

Today I'm welcoming special guest blogger Alexa Hildebrandt from Agents of Discovery with super advice for getting your kids involved in the great outdoors! (I'll think about it...when the temperature warms up!)

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When I see a toddler tackle tasks on a smartphone, I’m both impressed and alarmed. At that age, I was proud of my maneuvering around an Etch a Sketch! I’d move those toggles around with finesse, creating mini Jackson Pollock-esque masterpieces. Now, toddlers are like, “I see your Etch a Sketch and raise you! First, finding your phone is a cinch (I know where you hide it, mom), unlocking your phone is literally child’s play. Let me take a super-cute selfie, then I’ll throw in a quick conversation with an imaginary friend!”

The “job” of growing up has changed in the last fifteen years, as kids are now born into a world immersed in digital technologies. Time spent by kids on mobile devices has tripled since 2011, with 77% of kids under two years of age using mobile devices daily! Old school methods of entertainment, like exploring in the great outdoors, are overshadowed by glitzy, fast-paced video games and mobile apps. In fact, kids today spend 50% less time outdoors than kids did twenty years ago. More and more research is connecting disconnection to nature to childhood obesity and learning challenges. This phenomenon was coined “Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. Our kids deserve all the benefits we can give them. As influencers in our children’s lives, we are responsible for encouraging time spent outside! To combat Nature Deficit Disorder, here are a couple of my favourite ways to get “plugged into” nature.

Go on a picture scavenger hunt

One of my favourite things to do on a walk or hike is take pictures. It teaches my eyes to appreciate the colors, textures and shapes around me. I look at the world in a critical way, and truly I feel it instills a deeper appreciation of nature in me. This practice is extended even when I don’t have a camera in hand, I still strive to see the beauty around me - often wishing I did have a camera nearby. I recognize not everyone operates this way, but I would argue that even if you don’t find a ton of enjoyment in life behind the lens, it is at the very least a great exercise to train your senses to appreciate what is around you.

The process is pretty simple, and doesn’t require a whole lot of preparation! Grab a camera and go exploring. It is that easy!  Challenge your child to look for patterns, shapes and colours, or find the most interesting things along a path. Snap a photo and compare the findings at the end of the adventure. This is a fun way to encourage their little eyes to be open and aware of their surroundings. If they find something particularly interesting, you can refer back to it and research it later. Those photos can then be compiled into a craft book, or in a hiking journal which I will highlight later.





Agents of Discovery

When I was a kid, I remember exploring nature centres and park trails, which in theory should be the perfect place to learn about nature. But, instead of feeling excited and motivated to learn, I felt disconnected from the interpretive material placed around the park. As an eight year-old, I was eager to learn about the birds that flew overhead, or frogs that bellowed in between the reeds, but the faded images and academic sounding paragraphs instantly lost me. The lack of relevant material for youth in these outdoor venues is a huge opportunity lost.  Parks have the opportunity to instill a passion for nature, and the disconnection for younger generations was a problem until now.

Agents of Discovery (available for free to download in the App Store or Google Play) has a very viable solution to this problem, and I wish it was around when I was a kid! Agents of Discovery is a mobile game that kids play in participating parks to hike trails and solve educational challenges that teach them about their natural surroundings!

The creators of Agents of Discovery found a way to address Nature Deficit Disorder, the growing concern of childhood obesity, and disengagement from learning. Agents of Discovery gets kids moving and learning outdoors with the technology they love! It is a mobile game that gets kids from sitting on couches with their eyes glued to screens to actually hiking outdoors, keeping their eyes peeled for plants and wildlife, and their eyes open for bird calls! Agents of Discovery is presently available in over 35 parks across North America, including 14 sites in Calgary, Alberta!

Click here to find the closest mission site to you! Be sure to snap a photo of your mission for your hiking journal, and share it to Facebook or Instagram with the #AgentsofDiscovery. You could be featured on their Facebook or Instagram page!




Start a Hiking Journal

Creating a place to document findings like “Alesha’s Super Secret Adventure Findings Journal” or “Tommy’s Toads” is a great way to encourage kids to be mindful while they explore the outdoors. (And can  be a fun craft!) Get a journal from the dollar store, a gluestick and some markers - go collect artifacts like leaves or flowers to glue to the front - you could also laminate the cover! Once the journal is complete, encourage your kids to remember the sights, sounds, and feelings they experienced when they were out exploring. Make note of fun findings! This fosters mindfulness and awareness while out walking. The hiking journal will one day serve as an amazing memento of time outdoors with your kids! 






SkyView App

As a child, I remember hiking to the middle of an empty field with my dad, brother and sister, telescope in hand, and equipped with my dad’s infinite wisdom.  We sojourned into the blackness for the sole purpose of stargazing. Standing there in the dark with our chins pointed up, I remember fondly admiring the dark canvas of sky splattered with stars above me. In an instant my little heart would be humble and a cocoon of awe would engulf me as I stared at the expanse before my eyes.  Many (many) years before The SkyView App (available in GooglePlay and the AppStore) was around, I would create and name my own constellations only to later discover the real names of the celestial shapes that became like familiar friends. The SkyView App is an amazing and fun tool that takes the doubt out of deliberating names and places of the stars. Simply point the phone in the direction of the star or planet in question and it will not only give you the name, but information about the heavenly orb.





Go Camping

Some of the best lessons in nature come when you are outdoors for an extended amount of time.  As a child I remember camping and falling asleep to the smell and sound of a crackling campfire. I felt so closely connected to nature as the rain drummed gently on a tarp above my head, or the wind swept softly between the towering trees. In the majesty of nature, I became hyper aware of the sights and sounds around me and found a strange sort of contentment in those moments even as a child. I look back on them now and find so much value in those special memories that have helped shape my love of nature.

Camping may not be for everyone, but even the experience of pitching a tent in the backyard gives a similar sensation of the simplicity that can only be found outside. I believe even the least extravagant outdoor experiences can still have the power to fuse a connection between a child and nature. The challenge is to just go.




There are countless ways to motivate kids to learn about, and develop an appreciation for nature in a fun and engaging way, these are just some of my favourites.  What are your favourite ways to get kids excited and learning about nature?

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Thanks, Alexa! For more information, visit Agents of Discovery.

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