Getting kids outside and more active

For those that have been following my column since it started only a few short weeks ago, you may remember that I mentioned some startling statistics about children and the outdoors.  One disheartening one is that publicly educated children on average spend less time outside daily than the average prison inmate.  There is a video that is widely circulated that details the statistics as well as interviews with inmates.  The interviewer tells the inmates about the this and you can see how sad it makes the inmates.  Even they know how important and desirable it is to go outside.  So why do we not purpose ourselves to spend more time outside with our kids?  Obviously, there are a host of reasons and they vary from family to family.

One thing seems to be common, however.  “What do I do with them when I get them outside?”.  I have heard this question countless times by teachers, parents, and scout leaders.

My wife Jennifer has a degree in Elementary Education, we coupled her smarts with my love of the outdoors and teach a host of outdoor exercises for kids.  Most recently we did a course at the Parks and Rec Day Camp that was sponsored by Rick Mitchell from the Baker Intermediate Family Resource Center.

Here are is one simple exercise that you can do with kids that we have found to be successful.  We call it meet a tree.  This game is fun, educational and possibly life-saving, read on to see how.

Find a spot that has a lot of trees in it.  You can do this with one tree, but it is helpful if there are four or more.  You can also do this with one child quite easily, it is a short lesson.   It is helpful if the trees vary in species and size.  Parks and Rec’s College Park area is a perfect place to do this.  Tell the kids that they are going to meet a tree.

We use bandanas to blindfold the child and then safely lead them to a tree.  At the tree we tell them to walk around it slowly, feeling the tree as they go.  Some of the students will simply run their fingers on the tree others will take the time to feel each crevice in the bark, find small holes, feel an ant or two, hug it, feel it close to the ground and lots more.  This is all done in an effort for them to meet their tree.

After we have given them 5-10 times to do this, we will often have them sit down next to the tree they have met and listen and smell the tree.  This is all purposely done to engage their senses of touch, smell, and hearing.

Since their sense of sight has temporarily been taken away these other senses will be heightened.  We don’t recommend that the kids engage in tasting the tree because, well, tree bark is not all that tasty really.

Once this is complete we then walk the kids around, still blindfolded, in a circuitous route back to a group meeting area.  It is there that we ask them to take their blindfolds off and tell us about their tree.

We will get answers like bumpy, pointy, rough, smooth, big, small, sappy, wet, dry…you get the picture, and so do they.  They develop a picture of what the tree looks like without even seeing it.  The most important part is that they notice things about the trees that would not have normally done.

This leads to possible interest in the future with things related to trees.  After this discussion, we ask them to go find their tree.  It is rare that a child cannot find the tree that they had met previously while blindfolded.

You may be saying that you can see how this can lead to the enrichment of a child’s life but are not seeing how it could save their life.  Let me explain what we also do.

Kids that are lost in the wilderness during a family camping, hiking, or similar trip will often do two things that life-threatening.  They will walk around aimlessly looking for help.  They will hide if they hear or see a stranger in the woods.  Even if that stranger is a search and rescue person.  So we encourage our kids in these classes to “Hug-A-Tree” (which is a popular national movement) and stay by it and to go to anyone that is yelling their name in a wilderness in a situation where they are lost.  By doing so we have taught them ways to not only have fun, but that may also save their lives in the event they get lost.

All of this is done in an effort for me to be able to see more of you, and your kids, off or on the trail!

Craig Caudill is a lifelong resident of Winchester and serves as Director of Nature Reliance School. He is author of Extreme Wilderness Survival and Ultimate Wilderness Gear.  Please feel free to contact Craig at info@naturereliance.org or through any of the various social media platforms available.