As someone who grew up camping and spending hours in the woods, I knew I wanted to raise kids who loved being outside as much as I did. When we first had kids though, we lived on a Milwaukee city block with a tiny backyard, and I realized that we would have to be intentional in raising outdoor kids. But where do you even begin?? Here are five tips for raising outdoor kids that will apply to you whether you live in the woods or in the city.
1. Get outside as much as possible.
Okay, this may seem obvious, but if you want your kids to love being outdoors, you have to actually go outside! Even if you live in a city neighborhood, you can take a short walk around the block, head to a local park (we have a great list of some of our faves!), or visit Lake Michigan for a true Milwaukee outdoor experience. Shoot to get outside everyday, even in the winter. When you make it the norm, it won’t feel as hard on the days when you don’t really feel like going. Buy warm layers for winter and sun hats for the summer so that you can spend time outside in every season.
2. Buy a pass.
Grab a pass to one of the many local nature centers. The daily fee is usually small, but when you buy a pass, it removes one obstacle keeping you from getting out with your kids. Wehr Nature Center, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, and Urban Ecology Center are just a few of our local faves. Raising outdoor kids is easier when it’s convenient! Once you pay the yearly fee, you can drop in for a quick visit without worrying that you have to stay all day.
Can’t swing the cost of a pass? Many larger city parks (like Grant Park or Doctor’s Park) have hiking trails or paths for pushing a stroller. The Oak Leaf Trail is just one of the many hiking/biking paths in the area, and Havenwoods State Forest is free and has a great nature center too.
3. Keep your gear handy.
Keep a bag ready to go in your car or by the front door, so that you can easily grab it when you decide to head out on a hike or quick walk to the park. Fill it with bug spray, sunscreen, bandaids, hats, granola bars, and an extra water bottle. I like to keep my Ergo baby carrier in my car, too, for spontaneous hikes with my toddler that might not be stroller-friendly.
4. Be okay with risk and mess.
Part of raising outdoor kids means getting dirty and trying something new. Wear play clothes and inexpensive rain boots so that when your kids jump in mud puddles (and they will), it doesn’t stress you out. Let your kids climb trees, jump off big rocks, and balance on logs. Get up close and personal with bugs and dig around in the dirt. If you’re squeamish or afraid to get dirty, your kids will be too, so get excited about all the creepy crawlies your little ones find!
5. Have a goal.
Not every nature outing has to be a road trip to a five mile hike, but sometimes you need a boost of motivation to get out the door. Don’t give every outing an agenda, but add something when you need an extra boost to get started. Print off a nature scavenger hunt, bring a nature journal to draw what you find, or make a “bucket list” of local or state parks and check them off as you visit. Try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to get outside everyday for thirty minutes, sign up for classes at your favorite nature center or the zoo, or plan a weekly meet up with another local mom at a park.