dad and son walking to hunt

Thirty-some years ago when we were bored we went to Mom. We didn’t have iPad’s or cell phones, heck; we didn’t even have TV remotes or garage door openers. Back then we didn’t think twice about walking home from school or playing outside after dark. We were so free and fearless. As technology progressed and the news increased, our cheese moved whether we wanted it or not and fear shackled our ankles.

Whether it be electronic devices or overall safety there are many studies on how staying inside is affecting our kids’ health, their learning, social skills, and a simple appreciation of the outdoors. As parents we dreaded three words: Mom, I’m bored.

The “I’m bored” conversation I had with my son:

“Mom, I’m bored,” my son said.

“It’s okay to be bored,” I said.

“But Mom! What am I going to do?” he replies.

“Why don’t you go outside and play,” I suggest.

“Na, there’s nothing to do outside,” he ends. “Mom, what can I do?”

That very first conversation about being bored was a heart-sinker. And sometimes as adults, we don’t quite understand it. After all, we were their age at some point, and I’m sure we were bored too.

When I was his age I was outside ALL the time, and mostly by myself. So when I heard MY son say there’s nothing to do outside, I realized something had to change. But more so, I realized I had to change. I had to encourage him and not let up, and maybe I had to even show him how to play outside and use our imagination.

Why the outdoors is so important for our future

For some reason, I thought kids were born with an attraction for the outdoors, but not all are. According to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), back in 2014, they did a report about youth outdoor participation (6-24 years old). What they found were two major deterrents: lack of interest and lack of time. This tells me that now a day, playing outside is a thing of the past.

My answer to my son ‘Why don’t you go outside and play’ was an easy answer. I should have said, “Let’s go outside and play”. But what if you have work to do? Then you schedule a date. Respond with something like this, “Mom has to finish this project, so let’s plan on going outside together at 4:00. Okay?”

Young Child looking through Magnifying Glass

I recently read that the Michigan DNR is going to help schools who have forest land make the best of their natural resources by putting together outdoor education programs. It says, “[Educators] say taking students outdoors to learn and apply math, social studies, art, science, language arts, and physical education…is more engaging and meaningful.”

The OIA states from their study, “Reconnecting youth with the outdoors has become critical to the health of future generations and the health of our natural landscapes.” The future of our natural resources will someday fall into the hands of our children.

What am I going to do about this?

For starters, I told myself if I wanted him outdoors I had to show him. So I changed my answer to, “Let’s go outside to play”. This put a kink in my day, but this was important to me. I wanted him to develop a relationship with nature. That way he’d always have someplace to play and not be alone. My thinking was if I can get him started, then he’ll figure it out. And it’s been working!

What did I do?

Depending on where you live and what resources you have you may have to get creative yourself. Things that I did with my son included:

  • Going for a walk and talking with him how important nature is to our survival.
  • We played “I Spy”.
  • I helped build a small fort out of snow and in the Spring we used sticks and cattails.
  • I made a scavenger hunt.
  • His favorite was the obstacle courses.
  • We did yard work together.
  • We explored the park and played “I Spy” and looked for treasures.
  • As he got older I taught him how to make fire with a flint and dryer lint. I also taught him about matches and lighters. Please know I had tight rules to not do this without an adult.
  • We cooked hot dogs and marshmallows by the campfire.
  • We looked at bugs…not my favorite.
  • And we hooked up hammocks and looked at the clouds for fun shapes.

What changed my son’s mind

Over the next few months, we went camping in a campground with our little tent as a family to get our son more connected with nature. We did the whole bit. Tent, sleeping bags, camp food, and a fire. The campground had a lot of amenities like showers, playgrounds, wi-fi, and organized kid activities. All was a great experience, but it didn’t hit in his heart. All that changed was sleeping in a sleeping bag for him.

It wasn’t until this past summer when he went on a canoe fishing trip in northern Minnesota that all my hard work paid off. This was as rustic as it gets. No cell service (no wi-fi), no cozy bathrooms or showers, no playgrounds, no organized kid programs, and no car! Just a canoe, backpack, some food staples, playing cards, and fishing poles. My husband and a few other relatives and friends embarked on this trip.

The result? Bored?

When my son got back I thought for sure I was going to hear an earful of how awful it was. I was mentally prepared to hear how much he missed his iPad, friends, and…how bored he was. Yet, to my surprise, I heard the complete opposite. He loved every minute of it, except the mosquitos. The guys told stories, played cards, and my son read a whole book in a day! He caught fish, he ate fish, and according to my husband, he didn’t complain about a thing! Ever since that trip he has been saying he wants to go back. In fact, I asked him what his favorite trip was last summer…we went to a lot of places in our camper…and he said the fishing trip in northern Minnesota.

Our kids still may be bored every once in a while, but at least we can say with confidence to go outside! It’s the fun stuff we show them outdoors that our kids will remember. Most importantly they’ll always remember who brought them to it.

“Must we always teach our children with books? …. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”-  David Polis

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