Summer is around the corner, and with it comes one of the most exciting times of the year for both children and parents: summer camp. Whether your kids are camp veterans or soon-to-be first timers, you can help them prepare for the experience by engaging in some simple outdoors activities. This can help awaken their interest in nature and make them more confident explorers, which will allow them to fully enjoy their camp experience.
Geocaching is orienteering for the smartphone generation, meaning your child may prefer it the more old-fashioned paper-map-and-compass approach. The Geocaching app allows people to create and upload treasure hunts virtually anywhere in the world. Some are solved using a compass and coordinates, some have riddles, and some use clues from your surroundings. Each treasure hunt leads you to a cache (usually a notebook or piece of paper) in which you can record your find and see who else solved the puzzle.
Geocaching engages children with a walk or hike and gets them excited about exploring the world around them. As well as being great exercise, it also works on their problem-solving skills and gives them the opportunity to take the lead in the investigation.
According to Redfin, “There are all kinds of advantages to becoming a birder, both for your child and the pair of you. To start, it’s an opportunity to learn about your immediate environment: exactly what kinds of birds live there, the kinds of habitats they live in, why your area’s climate is ideal for them, and how different birds have adapted to human presence.”
Additionally, it turns out birdwatching may simply be good for you. A 2017 study from the University of Exeter found that people who regularly saw birds in their surroundings were less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Teaching your children to look out for birds can help them pay attention to the little things in nature throughout their lives, which will benefit their mental health.
If your children are more crafty than sporty, there is no reason why they shouldn’t still be able to enjoy some outdoor fun. There are plenty of outdoor-based crafts you can teach them, and that will help them connect with nature in a way that feels more comfortable for children who aren’t too keen on adventure and risk-taking.
You can pick flowers and collect leaves and teach your child to preserve them. You could make handmade nature sculptures by pressing objects collected from nature into clay, or pick up rocks and shells to be painted later on at home. If your child likes art, take a sketchbook and some pencils along with you on a hike and dedicate a half hour or so to drawing a pretty view. You could even easily pack watercolors to make it more exciting.
Finally, it is important to encourage unstructured outdoor play in your children. According to The Atlantic, free play plays an essential part in the development of a child’s socialization, problem-solving, and risk-evaluating skills. This is linked to a child’s “self-directed executive function,” or their ability to set goals and achieve them.
Furthermore, letting them play freely outdoors can increase their confidence in what is, for most children, an unfamiliar medium. The National Recreation and Parks Association estimates that children only spend four to seven minutes doing unstructured outdoors play every day. Encouraging your kids to do this more often will make them more comfortable with the outdoors-focused life at camp, not to mention encourage healthy habits for the rest of their lives.
Summer camp is a great opportunity for children to connect with nature in a way they don’t often get to do in the modern world. Doing outdoors activities with them in the lead-up to camp not only ensures they are comfortable playing in nature, but gives them the tools and experience to do so safely. This in turn makes them feel involved and in control, which experts agree is the most important step in reducing any camp-related anxieties. Finally, showing your children the full range of possibilities for fun outdoors will give them the chance to identify what they like best, which may help them get the most out of those tightly packed weeks of summer camp activities.