I was asked by the Parents’ Climate Community to share ideas for encouraging outdoor play and raising young environmentalists. As I started a list of tips for getting out, I thought, “Wait a minute! What kid doesn’t like to play outside?!?"
So I'll begin with tips my kids have taught me about outdoor play (that are way more profound than any advice I could offer):
• Get out! When it rains, put your rain boots on. When it’s sunny, wear a swimsuit. When it’s cool, rake leaves and jump in them! When it’s cold, bundle up. In the morning, look for birds. At night, search for the moon. When it’s hot, eat popsicles. The outside is a wonderful, changing, mysterious place.
• Slow down. Stop. Examine things. (The world can be new again to you, too.)
• Use ALL 5 of your senses.
• Be present.
• Notice the details. That’s where the magic lies.
• Change your perspective - drop down a level.
Following their lead, here are some kid- and caregiver-friendly activities to try locally (the guidebook can lead you to specific places for each of these):
• Boat, kayak, paddleboat
• Go fish
• Eat at places with outside spaces
• Go birding
• Play in creeks
• Visit animals
Admittedly, the harder part of getting out and connecting kids to their environment is usually not so much about finding the desire to get out as finding the time, the places, and the community. The busier life gets, the harder it seems to slow down, to live simply. But keep a watchful eye, recognizing that some stages of life make it easier to live more sustainably than others. As opportunities arise, you’ll spot them.
Day-to-Day Sustainability-Minded Actions:
• Instill a love of biking
• Go on nature walks to teach an appreciation for nature
• Ride the bus or train
• Repurpose things for play/maker spaces
• Pack snacks and lunches in reusable containers
• Eat less meat and dairy
• Eat in season (go berry picking!)
• Meet up at farmers’ markets
• Garden together
• Try toy swaps or buy reused toys
• Join park cleanups (Austin Parks & Rec - It’s My Park Day, or Little Hummingbird Society)
Kid-focused Community Groups:
• Austin Nature Science Center (classes, summer camp, hiking trails, animals)
• Austin Parks & Recreation Little Hummingbird Society (hikes, cleanups, getting out)
• CINCA (Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin)
• Hike It Baby Austin (group meet ups to hike together)
• Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Children’s Garden/Little Schoolhouse/Meet ups
• Travis Audubon Society (birding hikes)
Other Local Resources:
• Austin Creative Reuse Store
• Anna’s Toy Depot
• Splash! Exhibit at Zilker Park
• Toybrary Austin
Notes from the other side – teenagers!
Just a heads up – the challenges continue! With two teenagers now, I now face new challenges to environmental mindsets and lifestyles – screens in so many forms, the freedom of driving themselves in cars, boredom with the outdoors, their own busy schedules, questioning of parental values and morals as they form their own. So I continue to learn age-appropriate strategies and let go as my kids head out on school buses, city buses, scooters, and bikes on their own. I hope they will remember all they learned when they were little.
For myself, I feel a shift from guide to role model, but I feel a sense of reward in certain moments. When we travel to grand places on vacation, I see the excitement of the outdoors revive in them as they whitewater raft down cold rivers and horseback ride into mountains.
The lessons they taught me when they were young and wise and outdoors continue to guide us:
Slow down. Use your senses. Be present. Notice the details. Change perspective. Play.