Girl hugging a treeIf you’re lucky, you had a childhood like mine. I grew up in Massachusetts, surrounded by woods, fields, and streams. I often rode my bike to the edge of one of these wild places. One of my favorite things was climbing way, way up into the tops of white pines. Once I got 20 feet high, I’d hold tight to the pitch-covered branches and listen to the sweet sound of the wind singing through the branches. I felt giddy with my accomplishment. I was king (queen?) of not just the castle, but of the whole world!

Another favorite spot was a nearby brook. There I’d plop myself down and listen to the soothing sounds of the gentle waters tripping and flowing over rocks. I’d turn over the stones at the bottom of the brook to see what little creatures lived there. Some days, I’d head for this spot when I was upset. (Life with a moody, depressed, angry father was tough.) Here, in my secret hiding place I could cry my heart out.

Always, I’d return from these long solo treks feeling much more at peace than when I’d set out. You might say that nature empowered this shy, withdrawn, overly sensitive girl to emerge a bolder, more centered, and relaxed version of myself. Study after study today shows that spending time in nature does, in fact, help kids to become calmer and more self-disciplined–oh, and smarter, too, dare I mention!

Of course I had no idea back then that these childhood adventures in the “wild” were anything but fun! Certainly they instilled in me a lifelong love of nature. Nor did I have any inkling that one day my love of nature would lead me to my current job, working on a magazine dedicated to helping today’s kids develop that same connection. Seriously, how lucky can one girl be?

Sadly, as Meagan Francis, author of an article, “How to Get Kids to Play Outdoors” (Good Housekeeping magazine) comments, “In America today, a child is about three times more likely to play video games regularly than to ride a bike.” And she details the other grim facts about the growing obesity, childhood diabetes, and other health consequences of this indoor generation.

Francis suggests ways to get kids outdoors with a minimum of parental angst:

  • Establish Ground Rules: With certain rules, such as insisting kids let you know where they are going, when they’ll be back, and a promise to check in at a certain time, it can be just fine to let older kids, at least, head off in a group.
  • Set a Schedule with Other Parents: A group of neighborhood parents can plan a certain time when their kids are all allowed outside and several pre-approved places where they can play together. That way, there is no argument “There is nothing to do outside or nobody to play with.”
  • Be a Role Model: There are many fun, outdoor family activities. Hiking, camping, fishing, exploring national parks, for starters. And what about building bird houses, gardening, or creating a tree house or a fort–either temporary or more permanent? Maybe the kids can even spend the night outside in the tree house or fort!
  • Give Kids Responsibility: Get your whole family involved in outdoors activities, something as simple as running to the store down the street, or planning a hike, or a trip to a park.

I’d also add Geocaching to this list–it’s a high-tech treasure hunt using a GPS device. Or for the low-tech version, try Letterboxing.

Read the article for more tips on overcoming the barriers that keep us inside.

There’s magic just beyond your door waiting to be discovered! So what’s stopping you and your family?

Libby Schleichert is a Senior Editor at Ranger Rick magazine. Follow her as @EPSchleichert on Twitter.