Ditch the Stores and Get Outdoors!

December 4, 2009


by Joanna Pritchard

[Ed. note: this article is part of our series of weekly family activities called Family Fun, published on Fridays]


Winter may be around the corner, but there’s no need to hibernate. Fall and winter landscapes have their own beauty and bring their own fun. Christmas is approaching, and it may seem there’s no time for picnicking or walks, but in reality it’s extra important to set aside a few hours to enjoy the outdoors as an antidote to the consumer side of the holidays. Here’s why…

Adults are pressured with endless, sophisticated ads and children are bombarded with images of toys and electronics, fertilizing the acquisitive spirit that grows so easily even in the youngest hearts. It’s great to get far away from those shallow but seductive voices, and create times you’ll really remember in the beauty of God’s creation. Richard Foster, in his classic work on spiritual disciplines, suggests that getting closer to creation, and enjoying things we don’t possess or control, such as natural areas, are two important ways to pursue  simplicity.

Why not bring along one or two of your kids’ friends, a neighbor’s children, or go with another family, to make it extra fun for your children and multiply the joy.

Where to go?

No doubt you have your own favorite outdoor places, but if you’re looking for something new, here’s a great web resource from the National Wildlife Federation called Nature Find (tagline: “Get outdoors wherever you are”). Just type in your zipcode and specify a radius of x miles and Bingo! all your nearby natural areas appear on a clickable map. (You may have to zoom in a fair bit on the map to space them out). From national parks, to state parks, to tiny 2 acre local non-profit preserves, you can find someplace to get outdoors near you that you may never have heard of.

Be Prepared (To Eat!)

Why not set up a dedicated picnic basket (actually a backpack is better) to have ready for expeditions? Here’s a checklist for others like me who, after 3 kids, can still forget the basics if I don’t write it down:

  • Re-usable plates & cups
  • Sippy or bottle for baby/toddler if needed
  • Paper towels (cloth napkins if you prefer!)
  • Thermos for hot chocolate, coffee, (or home-made chai latte)
  • Sharp knife, wrapped in a cloth, to slice your bread/cheese/apple
  • Water bottle(s)
  • Some pack a tablecloth to cover grungy picnic tables
  • Grocery bags for bringing home your trash and other litter you find
  • Toilet paper in a Ziploc – just in case.
A renewable energy source

A renewable energy source

Easy ideas for food include basic no-chill things like pb&j, G.O.R.P./trail mix, granola bars, beef jerky (vegetarian jerky also available), fresh fruit, carrot sticks, crackers. Other grab-and-go stuff: cheese/cheese sticks, m&m’s, bagels (they don’t get crushed!), or a baguette and some good salami.

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing!

Think really hard before you decide it’s too cold and/or wet to get outside! Just bundle up, and wear waterproof shoes & jackets. Remember, some of our favorite memories are made in less-than-perfect circumstances. I fondly recall many picnics happily eaten in a fogged-up car, peering out at wind- and rain-swept British landscapes in my youth. But at least we got out there and saw it! And I have many other memories of tramping up and down sodden Scottish hillsides in dripping wet rain gear. But the rain is something to be thankful for, the misty, muted colors have their own beauty, and the exercise still counts!

Being present is the present!

Even when our family sets aside time to just be together, I have to remind myself to be fully present mentally. I need to NOT to think about my to-do lists or the next event for a few hours, and just play with, listen to, and watch my family and the beauty around us. Just last week we were on a walk in a gorgeous place with another family and another couple. We found ourselves thinking more about trip logistics and what came next, when what the boys really wanted was to sit down on a rock and whittle walking sticks with their pocket knives!

That required a shift of focus – they needed not just supervision but companionship, and we were so intent on “doing the walk” that we were reluctant to pause for a while. However, we had the time, and we did pause there in that rocky place among the bare trees. We chatted and played together, listening to the birds overhead. We relished watching the boys derive such satisfaction from making things, and our 2-year-old try out her climbing skills on a boulder.

Be genuinely present with family and friends

Be genuinely present with family and friends

Every parent discovers for his or herself the truth that  “they grow up so fast” (although there are some moments when we feel it’s not nearly fast enough…). Getting away from the hustle and bustle gives you an opportunity to savor who your children are right now and what’s unique about this time in their lives: their interests, their skills, their limitations, their faith, their humor, their need for you!

More Resources:

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster

Why Your Child Needs a Knife, by Rusty Pritchard

Videophilia Replacing Love of Nature, by Rusty Pritchard

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