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Simply taking children outside will open their eyes and hearts to the outdoors. While canoeing with adults on Bluff Lake in Noxubee County, Mississippi, this child searched for alligators and birds with her binoculars. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Evan O’Donnell)

Children need guidance to discover the outdoors

By Mr. Evan Thomas Odonnell
MSU Extension Service

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Most of us spent our childhoods outdoors in a constant state of motion, but many of today's youngsters are not experiencing the outdoor activities we remember with pleasure.

When I reminisce about my childhood, the memories that make me smile the most are of times spent outdoors with family or close friends. I still enjoy many of those same activities today.

Sometimes, I recall my adventures around a creek near my house, where I enjoyed catching frogs. On many nights, the adults would stand around and socialize while we kids ran around the neighborhood seeing who could catch the most "hoppy toads." Other times, my friends and I would make fishing poles, dig up worms from the compost and go fishing in a pond or creek within walking or biking distance. We built forts in secret locations and caught lightning bugs late at night to watch them glow in our canning jars before we released them.

Evan O’Donnell
Evan O’Donnell

Increasing your family’s enjoyment of the outdoors is as simple as getting outside and experiencing what is around you. If you aren’t comfortable with fishing or hunting, but your child is interested in those activities, there are youth fishing and hunting events across the state at different times of the year on public land.

The important thing to consider is that our children perceive the world through our actions and reactions. If we want them to enjoy being outdoors, then we must spend time outdoors with them, doing something that is enjoyable.

The activity doesn’t have to be rigorous in the beginning. It can be as simple as watching birds, identifying plants, enjoying the sunset, going for a hike, taking a camping trip or skipping rocks across a calm pond. Just lying in a hammock listening to the night come alive by a lake can help build strong bonds with the outdoors.

Make sure to ease everyone into the experience if they have never done it before or are uncomfortable. Across the state, there are groups that cater to families who want to build bonds with the outdoors. A quick search online can help you find more information about these family and nature groups. You can also check with your local parks and recreation office to see if they offer any guided trips outdoors.

Currently, the Every Kid in a Park Program is for all fourth-graders across the country, and it provides a free pass for the student and up to three family members to visit federal public lands. Additional information can be found at http://www.everykidinapark.gov/.

If you want your children or grandchildren to enjoy the outdoors the way you do, simply share the experiences you love with them. It can change their lives for the better. Now let’s get outside and explore.

Extension Outdoors logo[Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.]

Released: April 7, 2017
Photos for publication (click for high resolution image):
  • Simply taking children outside will open their eyes and hearts to the outdoors. While canoeing with adults on Bluff Lake in Noxubee County, Mississippi, this child searched for alligators and birds with her binoculars. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Evan O’Donnell)
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