This blog brings together two topics close to my heart: getting my kids outdoors more and helping my children in the face of Climate Change.
I am not an expert on child development or the environment. I’m just a concerned mother exploring these issues in my own life, with three growing sons aged between 6 and 11 years. In this blog, I share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way - lessons that I hope will empower you and, through that, empower your children to turn to the outdoors more in their lives.
One mantra I live by is:
I am not about guilt, I am about awareness
Creating more hassle for people in their lives is definitely not the plan here. So resist the urge to question yourself on how you might have done things lately. Don’t take on any guilt or pressure as you read the blog posts or use the deep well of resources on the Nature Days site. The library of activities in the Naturedays | Activity Finder on this blog is designed to assist the busy family and take the thinking out of getting your family outdoors more. So use it in the vein in which it was created – as a useful tool.
How this blog came about was probably an act of desperation! In fact, on closer inspection, it was more like a layer cake of desperation.
The top layer was the growing media attention, and scientific research, emerging about Climate Change and my own feeling of helplessness about this faceless threat.
Sure, I try to compost in a brown bin (mostly), and we switch off our lights more than we used to, but what in the name of blazes was happening about the major problems little insignificant me couldn’t knock a flake off. Like fossil fuels being burned by the cargo ship load in far off industrial cities, or rain forests being cut down by farmers in the Amazon basin. This was way out of my league and I knew it.
Yet, I was hearing that the impacts of climate change were beginning to creep towards my own nicely painted and neatly kept front door. So , curtain twitching, I began to watch out for signs of the nasty character threatening to upend my comfortable life. And an odd thing happened; I became more aware of the part I was playing in the whole confounding mess.
Like my addiction to single use plastics while grocery shopping, my total ignorance as to where the electricity that powers my home was actually coming from, and my once innocent taste for Moroccan raspberries in December (which feels like a burning at the stake offence nowadays!) But I refuse to take on guilt about these things. I didn’t know any better and there was no one knocking on my door to show me how to do things better either.
And, anyway, I just don’t have the stamina to go really green- and I’m talking the vegan, concoct your own shampoo and facial scrub shade of green that our planet seems so desperately to need. But maybe it was time to make some changes in my life and do my bit?
Dig a little deeper
Dig a little deeper for the second layer and I was beginning to get cross, VERY cross. Why were my kids being held out as some sort of savior for this polluted world? Knowing what I know about their inability to direct their jocks into the Bermuda triangle that is their laundry basket, who’s bright idea was it to hold out for these scamps to turn into the Superhero's of the Climate Crisis.
I can safely say that I would not rely on my kids to save up stamps for a giveaway cornflakes bowl, never mind save the greater known world. This daft notion just had to stop!
Maybe it’s a way for adults in charge to free themselves of the guilt of their own actions - kick the can down the road,
“Ah the kids will just have to sort it in the future”.
Maybe Greta Thunberg was right when she said, “You all come to us young people for hope, how dare you.”
Because let me tell you, there is more chance of me winning the speed skating gold for Ireland at the next Olympics than my kids saving the world any time soon; not without a PHD in economics, politics, meteorology and several other “ologies” for a start. So why burden them with the pressure of it all. They have enough to cope with in this social media maniacal world without eco anxiety and eco grief bogging them down too (no I did not make them up, it’s a thing!). So I happen to agree with Greta Thunberg when she says “How dare you” to the world leaders. And good for her.
But, the foulest layer, the layer that stank from right there on my very own couch, was several cases of Indooritis!
Not long ago, in the middle of the first lockdown of 2020, I noticed an ever-increasing reluctance by my kids to play outdoors, and I’m not even talking about their ever dwindling connection with Nature. How would we stand any hope of motivating these future adults to do anything to protect their planet if they don’t even notice it anymore? Sitting down to analyze the cause of this slothsome malaise, I had few theories.
As small children, I was outside with them frequently and not always for selfless reasons! Like many of us, I came to realise that my kids needed time outdoors to blow off steam and this benefited us all. They tended to eat better, sleep better and be in a better mood once they spent time outside, thrashing in the long grass, splashing in puddles or poking around in the flower beds!
Their pre-school curriculum, Aistear, focused on learning through play and exploring the world around them so they were introduced to Nature and encouraged to play outside many times in their preschool day.
The start of the rot
But somewhere along the way since then, something has changed. When my first son started primary school, I began to slow down on the time I spent outdoors with them. Now that all three were at that stage, it had dwindled to a trickle in our weekly routine. I still wanted them to go out to play by themselves but my requests were falling on deaf ears.
What had happened to change what I did automatically before? Everyone’s experience will be different but for me, it was a combination of things:
Decreasing time- It had certainly helped that I had several extended periods of maternity leave to take the pressure of work out of the equation when my kids were very young. I had a lot less free time since those breezy days.
Over to the teachers – When they entered primary school, maybe on some level I figured it was over to “proper school” now. I had done my bit in bringing their education so far, now it was over to the experts. I think we have all felt this even more acutely after home schooling our kids during the pandemic!
Kids resistance- When the resistance became more frequent, I felt my kids were just less interested in the things we used to do together and I had fewer ideas to distract them past the pushback that was coming my way as they grew up.
Shifting focus - And maybe, now maternity leave was a thing of the past in my life, I became more focused on my own work and shifted the laser beam focus I had on my kids in the early years. They had survived this far, all was grand. I’d just let them at it a bit more themselves I told myself, as I stepped back more.
When they came home from school tired, cranky, needing to be fed and with a lengthy shift of homework in front of them, getting outdoors was way down the list of priorities. By the time it’s all done, especially for our older kids, it is probably dark in winter or getting close to starting dinner. That’s not even factoring in after school activities.
Whatever the reason, I found myself with three sons aged 6 years, 7 years and 10 years (now 11) who had markedly begun to retreat back from outdoor play (which they had loved by the way) towards the comfort of their indoor distractions. This was especially the case with my eldest son, who was by now point blank refusing to come out at all when it was suggested to him. And yes, this was accompanied with a heaped side dish of moaning and whining about even having to listen to a suggestion of going outside.
He had nothing to do.. it was boring.. his brothers were a menace on his life.. while his perfectly good bicycle, scooter, skates and football all lay idle. He lost nearly all discernible interest in going outdoors because he was out of the habit. Like the bingo wings drooping beneath my arms during the pandemic, his playing outdoors muscle was sagging within the clutches of Indooritis!
When Kids forget the outdoors
For his age group and older, the Pandemic lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 brought an isolation from his friends that was also impacting on his willingness to spend time outdoors. He didn’t have his friends around to play with and he was at a loss for what he could do by himself, or with his brothers, if I wasn’t there to entertain him. My two younger sons could still invent a game to play together and the six year old in particular still enjoyed the fun in outdoor play, dragging a bucket with him around the garden as he concocted some elaborate plan for the contents.
But my eldest seemed to have already lost that skill. I knew he was changing, so at his age maybe it was natural for him to lose interest in the outdoors?
But, deep down I had a feeling all was not truly lost - he was just struggling to find the positives about it. He had got out of the habit of enjoying time outdoors and just making it up as he went along, exploring, inventing, creating with whatever he found lying around the garden or in the shed.
He was getting in his own way!
But should I just take his lead and let him cocoon indoors or should I take charge to begin to reverse the situation?
Still in two minds, and a little scared that my adorable boy was already deep into the thorny world of Tweendom, I sat on my couch one evening with my two youngest sons.
I began to hug each of them in turn, and one by one they sat on my lap for a long, deep, cuddle. My eldest boy was hanging out a little away from us and I assumed he would not be interested in this type of thing anymore. He was showing major signs of wanting to be treated as an older boy these days and I was just going to have to adapt too!
But, on the off chance, I invited him over. Hesitating at first, he eventually rambled over to sit by my side. Sitting there with him wrapped in my arms, feeling him relax into my chest and just be with me, I realised something - he’s still the same boy inside that changing body and brain of his. Just because he’s getting older, I had feared he was moving away from us as a family, moving away from me and the things he used to enjoy as a younger child and I didn't know how to react. The worst thing is that I had begun to assume this was just par for the course.
But now I realised it wasn’t par for the course if we didn’t want it to be. Yes, he was changing, and he was starting the natural process of moving on from some of the more childish things he used to enjoy. But some things he would always need. Like that closeness and to strengthen the connection between us at times, just not as often as his younger brothers still did. And like messing around outdoors, getting lost in an adventure. Just because he was growing up, it didn’t mean he couldn’t still benefit from the outdoors the way I instinctively knew he needed as a toddler. He may not realise it himself, but he may need it now even more than ever as his world changes into his teens.
And lets face it, we all need to spend time outdoors, especially adults. In my opinion, the single best antidote for the stresses and strains of daily life is getting out into Nature and now modern medicine is starting to prescribe Nature for stress related illnesses(look it up-it's a thing too!) I needed to keep hold of Nature in our lives and the benefits it could bring to us all.
Taking back control-The Challenge
So, I decided to do something about it.
I made a pact with my husband that we would go outdoors together as a family every evening for one week. With both of us working from home, we had extra time in our day that could be turned into a benefit for our family if we tried. We told our children we were going to do a short daily walk together that week and we expected everyone to join in. And by short, I mean our destination was literally just a few hundred meters away!
For the first day, there was no end of resistance! Moaning and negative attitudes abounded from all the kids. But, within a short while, my younger kids came around to the idea once they knew they would have fun and it wasn’t just some boring walk (because it must be fun to keep them interested). But my eldest was adamant he wouldn’t come.
I held firm and insisted this was a family event and he had to join us. He kicked up and tried everything he knew to get out of coming, but I stood quietly at the door repeating that I expected him to come. I explained that if he did not listen to me, he would have consequences and I showed him his choice.
I pivoted the conversation towards being about him listening to me when I ask him to do something rather than a power play around going outdoors. Because there will be times we need all the family to go somewhere or do something together, whether all of the kids are loving it or not. We can’t have one child holding the rest of the family ransom. Yes, he let his anger out on me and it was hard work. But the difference now was that I knew it was for his own good. And I knew with certainty that he would come back into the house a short while later a much happier boy - that made me strong!
As the other two kids walked up the path with their Dad, I insisted he come outside the house. I then locked up after us, so he had no choice but be outside. You can imagine what followed; kicking, lashing, self-pity, and just down right defiance, but deep down he knew I meant business. And believe me he is a great boy, kind-hearted and intelligent, but when he sets his mind against something, like many kids, it can take a while to defuse.
We didn’t make it all the way on the walk that day, but we did make it outside and down the road a little by the time the others came back. By that time, my eldest son had started to climb a tree, after first poking around in some mysterious holes in the ditches. But he still maintained his stance, holding firm against going for an actual “walk”. And do you know what, he was a hundred times happier going back in home!
Each day things improved a little more so that by the third day, he sat quietly outside on his bike waiting as I locked up the house. Maybe breaking in a wild mustang comes to mind when you hear this story, but sometimes to make new habits, we must break old ones and that is exactly what was happening inside my son. As the week went on, all three began to remind my husband and I about our walk together and we all began to look forward to it.
The high point of the week came unexpectedly. One morning towards the end of the week, I came downstairs only to find the kids had already gone out to play before even having breakfast!
Victories, no matter how trivial they may appear to others, can mean the world when you care enough. I suddenly felt such deep satisfaction as I watched them outside. I knew for sure that our journey back to the outdoors and Nature had taken a giant leap forward for my family.
And this was the holy grail, they were out there playing WITHOUT ME! Now I knew we had Indooritis on the back foot-and it had taken less than one week!
What’s in it for you
So I started to compile ideas, activities and inspiration for myself so I could continue to give my children opportunities to enjoy playing outdoors and reconnecting with Nature. Now the blog was born.
Putting together these activities, I had an inkling there must be other people out there who could use handy tips and family friendly activities in getting their families outdoors. I’ve taken the thinking out of that for you on this blog, so you just need to click on the Naturedays | Activity Finder, choose the time you have to spend outdoors (if any) and pick one of the many family-friendly, low prep ideas in the activity library. I’ve chosen the best out there to help interest your kids and also give the adults some fun along the way too.
You will also find information to help you appreciate why what you are doing is important for your family, motivation to keep you keep going and other useful areas in the blog which deal specifically with:
Teenagers & Young People Naturedays | TEENAGERS & YOUNG PEOPLE
Helping Your Planet Naturedays | HELP YOUR PLANET.
Above all else, this blog is about making your life easier.
What I’m about is connecting families with the good resources out there already.
Yes, this blog will:
Help you address any lurking worry many modern parents have about the changes to childhood and the lack of outdoor time for their kids
Help you find ideas at your fingertips to get your family outdoors and keep your kids out there without you
Help you and your family tap into the healing Nature has to offer in our busy lives
Help you and your family become more Nature centered and better adapt to a mindset of protecting and helping our planet.
But, none of this comes with guilt, comparison to other people, or worry about what we have done up to now.
We all just do our best, so dip in if and when you can. Use this blog and the tools here to help you in small meaningful ways but don’t burden yourself with too much. Start small, start at home, and grow all your family’s confidence, skills and interest in the outdoors one day at a time.