Do you remember childhood days of catching frogs, following streams, and walking through the woods? Have you shared some of those experiences with your children?
While you may think that taking kids outdoors hiking and camping is too difficult, Peter Brown Hoffmeister, co-founder and director of South Eugene (Oregon) High School’s Integrated Outdoor Program and the author of the new book, Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids into the Great Outdoors, does not! Hoffmeister spoke with Decoded Parenting, and offers these suggestions for parents who want to make the most of the outdoors with their kids.
Start with Simple Activities
Going outside with your kids may be intimidating to some parents. Decoded Parenting asked Peter Hoffmeister what activity would he would recommend to parents who don’t spend a lot of time outdoors with their children. He replied:
First of all, I’d say keep it simple and don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel like you have to create extraordinary and ever-changing nature experiences. As an outdoor program director and parent, I always tell myself that it’s good enough to just go outside. Open that door for them. Go walk, hike, ride bikes, or catch bugs in your hands. Climb an easy tree, jump on a trampoline in the backyard, play tag or catch on the grass, or build a sandcastle in the park. It doesn’t have to be complicated or an all-day affair.
Getting Kids Outside is Important
Decoded Parenting questioned whether Hoffmeister felt it was important for parents to share outdoor experiences with their children. Or, could parents register children and teens for outdoor adventure programs and camp programs to give their kids the benefits from time outdoors? Hoffmeister replied,
Going outside is good for adults as well as children, plus being outdoors together (without hand-held technologies) is relationship building. So I’d encourage parents to try being outdoors – doing just about anything – with their kids. But there are times when parents have to work or get things done, that’s life, and outdoor adventure programs or camps are excellent in those situations. For example, during the summer weekdays when most parents have obligations, having a kid in an outdoor camp is an excellent option. Better than staying inside and at home.
Nature Play Develops ‘Real World’ Skills
When asked what he would say to parents who believe that nature play and exploration wouldn’t help their kids develop the skills they’ll need in the “real world,” he said,
While researching for Let Them Be Eaten By Bears, I found overwhelming evidence that nature play or outdoor time helps kids to develop real-world skills like creativity, adaptability, and cooperation. If we want our kids to be successful in school, they need these skills.
With the high school students I work with, outdoor time is essential for their academic and work success. A lot of troubled students turn their lives around in our program because of consistent outdoor stimulation. They learn to be self-motivated team members. Nature is challenging and honest, and they learn just by being outside in a group.
Also, being outside is good for us on a chemical level. Dirt has bacteria that activate the neurons that release serotonin, a natural anti-depressant. So dirt on the skin makes us happy. And sunlight, even filtered sunlight in winter makes us sleep better, digest better, gives us more energy, and helps us perform better on mental tasks. All of that sounds very real world to me.
Developing Extreme Outdoor Skills
In reading the book, I was amazed by some of the descriptions of camping experiences with his students that I thought some readers might view as extreme – for example, having teens wear shorts and walk barefoot in the winter to develop a tolerance to the cold.
I wondered if Hoffmeister might be concerned that some parents would look at some of these examples as reasons why they and their children shouldn’t spend time outdoors. Hoffmeister elaborated,
Some of the ideas in the book are very, very basic. But on the other hand some of the concepts or stories are extreme. I wanted to write a book that was accessible to any parent, youth group leader, outdoor volunteer, aunt, teacher, or grandparent.
Yes, preparing students for snow-survival trips (barefoot in winter) is quite extreme. But I wanted those kids to be successful in the backcountry in winter, backpacking on snowshoes and building snow shelters. They needed to be well-prepared for a harsh environment.
Hopefully there’s something for everyone in the book. Richard Louv wrote a book that I love, a great book called Last Child In The Woods, an academic text that explains why children need nature. Some of it is very extreme and/or too academic for certain readers, but there are moments that are accessible to anyone.
My book is very different, it’s more for everyday people, includes more application, examples and how-to ideas, but hopefully it’ll be like Louv’s book and have something for each reader. Bears has lots of small ideas. A few big ideas. I hope parents will read the book and take what they need.
Whether you are a first-time hiker or you can recall vacations spent camping, Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s book, Let Them Be Eaten By Bears, will inspire you to consider taking kids outdoors as a way to connect with your children help them discover confidence in their abilities.
Hoffmeister, Peter. Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids Into the Great Outdoors. (2013). Perigee Trade.