Parents in Action: Outdoor learning

Summer is fast approaching and your kids are most probably hoping to spend some time playing their favorite games. But before they get sucked into those tempting video and computer games, you'll want to consider encouraging them to spend as much time outside as possible. As well as having a number of benefits, like physical and mental development, they can also learn a tremendous amount from outdoor activities.

According to N.M. Wells's 2000 study Natural Settings and Cognitive Behavior, exposure to the outdoors can be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. Additionally, spending time outdoors will enhance kids social skills and help reduce anxiety and depress. Schools that have environment-based programs were scored better on math, reading and writing.1 Being outside will also encourage your kids to be curious about what they see. If they come across something they don't know about or seem interested in, nurture this curiosity by researching the Internet or reading books about the outdoors.

Here are some fun projects to keep your kids learning outdoors over the summer.

Start a Garden
There are endless ways to engage your kids outdoors but starting your own family garden is a great way to teach your kids about where food comes from and how to live sustainably. Set aside a small area in your backyard where you can plow and prepare your new family garden. You'll want to start off by growing plants and vegetables that are easy to tend to like sunflowers, lettuces, peas and tomatoes. Initially your kids will learn about how seeds transform into seedlings and then grow into plants. Take time to explain to your kids the difference between organic and non-organic plants, composting and beneficial earthworms as a way to make the garden thrive. As tending become more routine, you may even consider introducing small animals to your garden like a pet rabbit to help teach them about the eco-system that is your garden.

Visit State Parks
A great way to learn outdoors is by spending time in our national parks. In the state of Florida there are 11 parks open to the public each with unique experiences that can expose your family to Florida's and our nation's history. Many of these parks offer guided tours and education classes and programs that are available for a small fee or at some locations, for free. If you live near a national park, there may even be camps for individuals or groups traveling over the summer. Recently, under the direction of Secretary Ken Salazar, many national parks will be offering free programming on certain dates. For a full list of these dates, visit the National Park Services' website at

Photograph the Outdoors
Find time this summer to head to a local park or beach and photograph the surroundings that you see. Give each of your kids a deposable digital camera and free reign to capture nature at its best. Encourage them to photograph animals, plants, clouds or anything the peaks their interest. Not only will they learn about what the natural settings around their home are like but they'll also learn about photography and how to capture great pictures. At the end of the day, your kids can print out their favorite photos and hang them in their room at memories of what they learned over the summer.

At the very least, devote 30-minutes every day to getting outside with the kids. You can do anything you want. Outdoor activity will not only help your kids develop physical strength, hand-eye coordination, and decrease the temptation of sitting in front of the computer or T.V., it'll peak their curiosity is ways you never thought possible.

1 - Study: Ernst, Julie (Athman) and Martha Monroe. Critical Thinking



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