How to Build an Active, Outdoor Lifestyle With Your Kids

This is a post from Rebel Family Correspondent Dan.

“Who wants to have some fun?!”

Not Fallout fun, not Facebook fun, not even Futurama fun. Just good old fashioned Family Fun, outside and outstanding! (Yes, I’m a dad.)

Today we’re going to look at why we’ve all lost our love for the outdoors, how to rediscover it (and why it’s awesomely beneficial), plus some super rad outdoor activities everyone can do to get moving whilst enjoying yourself.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, be it Nintendo, Netflix, or of course, Nerd Fitness, I find that I spend a lot of my time in front of a screen. And as a result, so do my kids.

This is a common issue for many families today. Studies have shown that children are spending far too much time in front of some sort of screen, and not enough time undertaking physical activity.

I get it; the things on these screens are pretty seductive – they’ve been designed that way! So let’s fight back; today we’re going give you the tools to put down this device and go out into the world! (Right after you finish reading this article, of course).

All screen, no green

Apple

Growing up, my days were spent riding my bike, exploring creeks, or playing backyard games with the other neighborhood kids. Sure, I still clocked up a ridiculous amount of hours on the Sega Genesis each night, but if it was light out, I was out, too.

Not to sound like the cranky geezer that I’m slowly turning into, but it’s just not the same today with kids these days (and people in general).

Why is this? Seriously, pause for a minute and think about why?

If you think like me, you may be thinking how we all live different, busier lives. We’re all working more hours to spend more money on things we don’t need (to impress people we don’t really like…).

A lot of us feel we simply don’t have the free time after hours or on the weekends. And this isn’t just adults; our kids are becoming overscheduled too. It’s not uncommon for a child to be undertaking swimming lessons, ballet, soccer practice, learning piano, and managing their own YouTube channel before they’ve even started school.

Are we, as parents, the ones to blame?

Naturally, the answer is ‘No, of course not! I want what’s best for my child, and do all I can to give them that.’ This may be true, but along the way, we might be so caught up on the doing that what’s best for us and our child gets lost.

My favorite, formative memories from my childhood came not from structured learning, but from unstructured play; from learning to nail a kickflip at the local park, to building a treehouse which we would later destroy in spectacular fashion, or knocking on the neighbors’ doors to see who would come and make mischief with me and my brother that day. There’s a sort of magic in this play, and it turns out, a magic in the development of children and well-being of adults.

But will I let my daughter partake in arson and go unsupervised knocking on random neighbors’ doors once she reaches primary school? Nope. (Like we’ve established, ‘Not our fault, want the best for them, I’ve seen that NBC show, etc.’)

That’s another huge reason why kids don’t get outside as much anymore. Stranger Danger. Even though statistics don’t back up the idea that our kids are almost certainly going to be kidnapped if left unsupervised, it’s clear we don’t do a good job of judging these things in real life. This 2010 New York Times article showed how parents are just awful at judging danger; even when they make a good faith effort to protect kids they often end up choosing the thing that puts them, statistically, in MORE danger (we’re keeping our kids from building up their Antifragile Attribute.

Ultimately, our intuitions about danger are crap.

So, let’s get ourselves and our kids outside,and naturally just find ourselves spending less time in front of a screenthus avoiding the range of posture, neck strain, and eye issues that tend to come with it.

Let’s get outdoors!

WHY OUTSIDE?

Danbo Outside

“Give your child a stick and you create a thousand play scenarios.”

Children are naturally physically active, and we shouldn’t try to stop this. Their minds and bodies are desperate to move, learn, create, touch, smell and explore. And for once, there’s no app for that. A handheld device or a bedroom can only offer so much stimulation (no matter how many plastic toys or gadgets they own) for both their growing bodies and minds.

The outdoors is the very best place for kids to practice and master emerging physical skills. It’s where children can fully and freely experience motor skills like running and jumping. How many times have you parents said “No jumping on the couch!” or “No running in the house!”?

Additionally, it is in the outdoors that children are likely to burn the most calories, helping to prevent obesity and reducing a key heart disease risk factor that has doubled in the past decade.

As if that’s not enough reason to get outside, it’s been shown that children who play regularly in natural settings:

  • Are sick less often (Dirt, leaves, water and grass stimulate not only stimulate their imaginations, but their immune systems, too)
  • Are more resistant to stress
  • Play in more diverse and imaginative ways
  • Assess and negotiate risk with greater confidence
  • Have more positive feelings towards each other

Plus, other studies suggest:

‘Nature has been associated with a number of health benefits for children, such as improved cognitive function, increased creativity, improved interaction with adults, reduced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms and reduced rates of aggression.’

It’s not just our children’s bodies that benefit from getting outside, it’s their highly susceptible minds, too.

Do you want healthy, creative and happy kids? Take them outside! Destroy all excuses!

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. So even if it’s as cold as Hoth or hot as Tatooine, let’s look at how we can make the most of our surroundings.

HEY-AYAY, COME OUT AND PLAY!

Lego Family

So, armed with your offspring (get it?!), let’s get this plan into action.

It’s not particularly hard to start getting outdoors and active with your family, but you do need to think about what’s going to interest your children the most and be prepared.

The last thing you want is to head outside and realize you’ve forgotten the nappies after an unfortunate accident (guess who learnt that the hard way?). So be sure to stock your inventory with the essentials (nappies, wipes, spare clothes, water, snacks) and head to wherever will spark curiosity and excitement in your little one.

You must choose, but choose wisely. There’s not much point in taking an infant to a skatepark, so here are some age appropriate quick tips to get you started.

Infants

  • Walk. (You, not them) Be it in a stroller or a baby carrier, walking with your baby is a great way to stimulate their minds and introduce the wide world to them, whilst also giving yourself some light exercise. (Which is recommended to assist with recovery after birth).
  • Roll. Find a nice patch of lush grass and both spend some time on your tummy. This will help your baby develop the neck, back, and shoulder muscles, while you can do some planks to work on your own muscles. (Win, win.)

Two to Four Year Olds

  • Ride. There are many safe attachments for your bike that accommodate a toddler. Kids love feeling the wind in their hair as you go downhill, plus it’s a great way to get to your local playground so they can play on the equipment while you do Steve’s epic playground workout.
  • Kick. Break out a ball in the backyard or somewhere nearby and teach your growing one how to kick, throw and catch. Focus on the fundamentals and lay off any rules, kids can get easily confused and frustrated. Remember, it’s all about having fun.

School-Aged Kids

  • Hike. Really connecting with nature is a great way to get kids to really experience the outdoors. Just be sure to keep it short and feature-filled the first few times. Ask another family to come along if you really want to wear the kids out and keep it interesting for them.
  • Camp. Family camping is a cheap and fun holiday where the family can bond and get outside (whilst getting those sweet Nerd Fitness XP). Every family should try this at least once. I recommend starting small (perhaps a night in the backyard) before you get too in-tents.

Bonus NERD-tivities for all ages!

  • LARP. (Live Action Role Playing) Kids love dressing up and getting caught up in a fictional setting (remember playing ‘cops and robbers’?). LARP is usually an organised activity, but much less structured than most sports, making it a great nerd-tivity for both you and your little nerd to enjoy together.
  • ‘Gamify’ your yard. Using door mats, chairs, hula hoops, toys, and whatever else you can get your hands on. Design an obstacle course the whole family can get involved in. Use your favorite (or least favorite) video game levels for inspiration (‘the floor is lava’ is timeless and will always be fun). Be sure to include checkpoints, power-ups, and increase difficulty with each level.
  • Treasure hunt. Don the eye-patches and bandanas to find the lost riches. Draw up a map for your wee buccaneer to follow, kids love the thrill of figuring something out and searching for the unknown. Bonus points if you actually bury their treasure and make them dig for it. Older children may enjoy geocaching to get their treasure hunt fix.
  • Play play play: There are infinite possibilities when we play outside and use our imaginations to create adventures, stories, and fun. The list goes on, run, jump, hide, seek, dig, fish, roll…but no matter what the activity, it must be fun, that way it won’t even seem like exercise. See “How to stay active when you have a family” for even more tips from other rebel parents.

For you, for them, for the Rebellion

Babywearing cropped

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

When we think back to our own childhoods, chances are a lot of our favorite memories are of outdoor places and activities. So let’s level up and show our sidekicks the way! When we show an appreciation for the great outdoors, the children in our lives will follow our lead and start off on the right path.

Even if you don’t have kids (thanks for reading this far!), there are so many awesome benefits of getting outside on your physical and mental health.

So, now comes the time to destroy our excuses!

Am I guilty of spending too much time online? Definitely.

Are my kids spending too much time indoors? Absolutely.

Am I going to do something about it? Indeed. And so are you.

As of right now I’m installing a productivity extension, StayFocusd to help me become more productive, imposing a self-ban from the internet every Sunday until 8pm, and promising to do one major outdoor activity each weekend with the kids, regardless of the weather.

Now it’s your turn:

What are you going to do to get out more?
What are your favourite childhood memories?
What outdoor activities does your family enjoy?

-Dan

P.S. from Steve – Are you coming to Camp Nerd Fitness? Last week 140 people snagged tickets, and 3 room types sold out! Be sure to head on over and check out the awesome headmasters and activities we’ve lined up for an unforgettable Camp experience!

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  • Sporky

    Not just geocaching, but letterboxing! Make a stamp on a rainy day, then check out the letterboxes near you! http://www.atlasquest.com/ is a great place to start.

  • Silverwolf

    One of my New Year ‘s resolutions was to spend some quality time with my 9-year-old daughter every week. Now, every Saturday afternoon, we go to the local dog shelter and walk the dogs. Dogs are happy, my little’un transforms into a responsible young lady and between one dog and the other, we do a 5-mile walk – a win/win situation! 😊

  • PETZ

    FYI, the link to the 10 most frustratingly difficult video game levels of all time is broken.

    Great article!

  • Ruth Cooke

    Don’t wait until they’re school aged to go camping! The first time each of my kids went camping, they slept in a portable playpen in the tent (we didn’t use a trailer until they were in their twenties). I carried my kids on hiking trails in a backpack-type carrier. They played on the beach and built sandcastles. And thirty years later, they’re all still physically active and love the outdoors.

  • Dan Schmidt

    I have never heard of this, looks awesome though, thanks for posting it here.
    Unfortunately it doesn’t seem very popular in Australia, with no letterboxes in my entire state. Perhaps I need to be the first.

  • Dan Schmidt

    Great stuff! Helping the community, quality time with your daughter, and getting out and moving. More like win-win-WIN if you ask me (or Michael Scott).

  • Dan Schmidt

    Which is frustrating in itself, how ironic. I’ll see if I can get that fixed, cheers for pointing that out and for the kind words.

  • Dan Schmidt

    Absolutely. Great point, I’ve started with my 4 year old daughter already. So good to hear that through introducing the outdoors early you inspired a lifelong love, that’s something I really admire and hope I can do myself. Thanks Ruth.

  • Mark Dowding

    Geocaching.com has their own version of letterboxes. I was also going to suggest games like Sighter (geo based photography), Munzee, Wallabee (collect cute little icons as you explore – its oddly addictive) and Ingress

  • Sporky

    http://www.letterboxing.org/ probably has more. Those are the two big clue caches.

  • Sporky

    Oooo, yes. Ingress! RESISTANCE FOREVER.

  • ZeroBlink

    This is great!! I do a lot of this in the summer time, do you have any winter weather recommendations? We do a bit of boffing during the summer too!

  • Mark Dowding

    What are you going to do to get out more?

    Now we have a dog, we have been walking doing longer walks at the weekend with the kids

    What are your favourite childhood memories?

    Playing in the woods with friends. Climbing and jumping from trees.

    What outdoor activities does your family enjoy?

    For the last three to four years mainly geocaching. But now walking the dog too.

  • Will

    You had me at Mission Codename: Applesauce, Applesauce, Applesauce.

  • Dan Schmidt

    Yes! You’re a winner, it’s as simple as that.

  • Dan Schmidt

    Thanks. Living in Australia, I don’t really experience a real winter, so I just throw a raincoat or jacket on the kids and do what we’d normally do. But if you’re somewhere where it gets proper cold and a bit dark, try Flashlight Tag, works like regular tag, but the chaser has a flashlight to catch the next victim. Also, blowing bubbles outdoors and watching them turn into ice bubbles would be amazing. Even just putting a pair of gumboots on everyone and seeing who can make the biggest splash is always a hit, but don’t forget to bundle up and have a few towels handy just incase you get soaked.

  • ZeroBlink

    LOVE!!! Thank you!!

  • Will

    Look at me!!

  • GingerNewfie

    snowshoeing is a great activity. it they’re really little you can take a sled for the kids to ride in. take them to a local hill and go tobogganing, or just spend time in the yard building a snowman. As they get older, there’s ice skating and skiing, cross-country and/or downhill.

  • Dan Schmidt

    Anytime, let me know how it all goes.

  • Mark Dowding

    It seems the National Trust agrees kids need to be outside more and are investing in them https://ntpressoffice.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/national-trust-secures-1m-to-invest-in-young-people/

  • Corey Hinde

    Play tag with your kids – such an awesome workout and loads of fun!! Thanks for the article team.

  • Mike Hall

    Great article and just the thing I need to jump start my commitment to get outside. Moving it from my mind to physical action. “Gamifying”. My son is 9 and it’s safe to say that he’s a gamifyer at the master level (keep in mind my complete subjectivity regarding the last statement).
    As fun as these activities can be, heed this ominous warning. BEWARE!!!!!! He has been rendered infamous by his obsessive need to change the rules mid-stream. Especially when he perceives he is losing. This brings to mind a high school phys ed teacher from my distant past. Mr. Manley (That’s right. A phys ed teacher named Mr. Manley) who behaved in a similar fashion. I leave it to the reader to draw her/his own conclusions. For me it’s either my 9 year old acting Manley, or Mr. Manley acting ninely.

  • Great article. Couldn’t of come at a better time. We’ve got an 18 month old and another one on the way. Always looking for different ways to improve our outdoor lifestyle. Cheers