50 Ways Exploring the Outdoors Can Make Your Family Healthier

Posted by Julia Reinisch, Contributor | 05.10.2019





#1 - Quality time in the outdoors means creating shared memories

Whether it’s laughing about that time you all got lost or the incredible view after a long hike, spending quality time together in the outdoors creates all kinds of memorable moments.



#2 - Staying healthy with exercise

Most outdoor activities naturally include some form of exercise. Rather than trying to get the whole family to the gym, why not take a gorgeous hike? This form of exercise is especially helpful to combat childhood obesity because it builds strength, balance, and speed at an early age. As a precaution, it’s important to take into account the various ability and comfort levels of your family members and adapt your daily activities to best suit their needs and skill levels. 





#3 - Problem-solving

Things inevitably don’t work out the way we plan. It doesn’t matter how much time you take to plan, something always interferes. Practice asking questions that can help your kids come up with solutions and then let them try out the solutions. You can ask questions like, “Why do you think that is?” “What are some ideas for dealing with that?” and “Is there anything you need from me to help you with that?”



#4 - Conflict resolution

It doesn’t matter who started it, being in the outdoors and spending lots of time together creates a great environment for them to learn how to proactively resolve conflicts. Especially on multi-day trips, they’ll learn quickly that you can either stay mad at someone and let it ruin your whole trip or learn to resolve it and move on. 






#5 - Respect for nature and Leave-No-Trace

Go beyond teaching your family to not litter. Explain to them the principles of Leave-No-Trace and why things like rock cairns and making forts in the forest are disruptive to the natural environment. Do your research about the area and know what possible wildlife you may encounter so that you know how to react in ways that keep both your family and the animal safe. 



#6 - Develop family traditions

Maybe your family adopts a trail and helps to keep it clean throughout the year. Or maybe you have a specific campsite you visit on your first camping trip of the season. You could have a special “first night” and “last night” meals that you make every time. 






#7 - Learn to listen and be still

Teach kids to understand that the quieter they are when exploring a trail, the more likely they are to see animals and wildlife. Also, while it seems fun to play music while hiking, explain how noise impacts the experience of others around them, and that they may notice things differently when they learn to listen. 



#8 - Being properly prepared

Yes, you could go on a hike wearing jean shorts, a cotton t-shirt, and flip flops. But is that really the best apparel for your trip? And why would you need to wear sunscreen if it’s cloudy? Teach your family about the moisture-wicking and temperature-control benefits of certain fabrics and why proper footwear can help prevent injuries. Also, share how environmental factors, such as elevation, can impact your trail experience and how you should prepare. Being prepared also includes knowing your own gear and how to use it before going out on the trail. 



#9 - Self-sufficiency

Since you are traveling with a group, you can share the load by splitting heavier items (such as your tent and cookware) between packs, but every person should still be able to function separately in case of an emergency. As a family, put together a 10 essentials kit for each pack and remind them to check and maintain it before every trip.






#10 - Confidence, self-empowerment, and leadership

Everyone is different and has different skills and aptitudes that can be shared with the group. If one family member is particularly organized, encourage them to help other family members pack and prepare for the trip or even help with choosing a hiking route. If one kid has a knack for cooking and another enjoys building a good fire, partner them up to be in charge of your group meals (with appropriate supervision for safety). And if someone expresses interest in a new outdoor activity, encourage and support them so they can give it a try.  



#11 - Entertainment without electronics

Everywhere you hear people discussing that “kids these days” are practically born with a smartphone in their hands. Getting out and off the grid can help them learn how to unplug and entertain themselves in other ways. Avoid the temptation to feel like you need to entertain your kids. Instead, encourage them to invent some special “trail games” or practice telling stories. They can get quite creative!






#12 - Teachable moments, passing on handed down skills

Do you remember the first time you learned how to filet a fish? What about mimicking a certain bird or another animal call? Can you close your eyes and picture that moment and who taught you that skill? Use your quality time together to pass on skills that have been handed down in your family, and share the story of how you learned that skill. 






#13 - Cooking skills

Cooking on the trail can be as simple or as creative as you want it to be. Besides learning a few basic foil pack recipes and boiling water for dehydrated meals, challenge your family to come up with a “trail-friendly” version of their favorite meal from home. 



#14 - Improvisation

Even if you are the most prepared person on the planet, chances are you will still have a situation where you don’t have exactly what you need with you. The ability to improvise and creatively work with what you do have is an invaluable skill on the trail. For example, if you get a large rip in your backpack, would you patch it with duct tape or temporarily sew it with fishing line from your 10 essentials kit?



#15 - Navigation

Would you know how to navigate without your phone or GPS? What happens when the battery unexpectedly dies? Take time to learn and practice orienteering with a map and compass and even some natural navigation using stars and other natural markers. 







#16 - Art

The natural world has inspired art in all forms. From photography and drawings to poetry and songs, encourage your family members to bring at least a pencil and piece of paper with them just in case they feel inspired. 



#17 - Observation skills

When you take the time to slow down and become truly aware of your surroundings, you will notice things you may have walked right past before. While hiking, find moments to pause and take in your surroundings. Ask your kids to look far off into the distance, and then right under their feet and tell you what they see. When you hike, purposefully pay attention to how the ground feels beneath your feet. Take in deep breaths and smell the air around you. Ask your family to share the things they see and point them out so others can enjoy them as well. 



#18 - First aid and emergency preparedness

 Take a basic first aid class together as a family. Learn how to take care of basic injuries such as a sprained ankle and come up with a family plan for how you would handle various emergencies—including how to find help if necessary. 



#19 - Plant identification

Not only is it interesting to know what kinds of plants are edible, but it’s also important for your safety that your family knows what kinds of plants are dangerous (such as poison oak, poison ivory, and different fungi). There are plenty of free resources online as well as plant identification apps that can help you identify plants on the trail. 





#20 - Animal identification

What’s the difference between a hawk and an osprey? What signs do animals leave that let us know where they’ve been? Learn this and more by participating in a Jr. Ranger program at any National Park. By completing a booklet and various interactive activities, your kids have the chance to earn badges while pledging to help protect natural areas. 



#21 - Bushcraft survival skills

Learning various bushcraft and survival skills is a great activity for families in the outdoors. Teach your kids how to choose a good campsite, different ways that they can make a fire, how to fish and create snares, and even how to create emergency shelters. It’s fun for kids to pretend that they’re in different survival situations and come up with ways that they would find shelter if needed.



#22 - How to safely use a knife and other tools

Spending time in the outdoors is a great way to learn how to safely use a knife and other tools. Make it a special tradition when a kid becomes a certain age that they receive their first pocketknife. Teach them how to practice whittling safely, and how to maintain and clean the tool. By learning that this item is a tool, they will respect its use and only see it as a means of survival and necessity. 



#23 - Learn about water use and conservation

Teach your kids how to filter and even purify water, then use it as a teaching moment to talk about water use and conservation at home. 






#24 - How to read weather patterns and prepare for weather conditions 

Weather on the trail, and especially in Colorado, can be unpredictable. However, there are telltale signs in the sky and clouds that can help you prepare for changes in the weather. For example, point out when you notice the clouds becoming darker, heavier, and lower in the sky and how that is different from how the clouds will look on a sunny day. 



#25 - How to use the bathroom outside

There is a bit of technique to be learned while using the bathroom in the outdoors. But mastering this skill can lead to enormous satisfaction, especially when you teach your kids that doing it correctly is important to maintaining the beauty of outdoor spaces. 



#26 - How to research and prepare for a trip

 Let your kids figure out what kinds of activities and things they are interested in and let them help you plan a trip that allows them to further explore these interests. The planning process alone helps them learn what all goes into researching a trip, and also allows them to take ownership and a leadership role in the trip. 





#27 - How to get in shape and train for an adventure

Being fully prepared for a trip doesn’t just include packing, it also includes taking care of the primary mode of transportation: your body. Help your family learn about proper nutrition (such as an appropriate balance of protein and carbohydrates) in addition to exercise to make sure that you can handle the challenges of your adventure.



#28 - Deciding what you do/don't need when packing

When kids are old enough, make them responsible for packing their own packs. Teach them what kinds of things they’ll need, but let them be in charge of the actual packing. For older explorers, let them completely control their own packing list so that they learn from experience what kinds of things they really need (and use) and what they could leave behind





#29 - Heirloom equipment 

There’s something special about receiving a piece of equipment that you know helped someone else on their own adventures. If you have a watch, compass, or even a knife in the family, make it a tradition to pass it down—or, start your own tradition on your next adventure!





#30 - Make adventures a rite of passage

Celebrate life’s milestones by equating them with some sort of adventure. For example, when a kid graduates high school, they get to go on an extra special backpacking trip of their choice. 



#31 - Learning positive ways to regulate your emotions

Kids need to be allowed space to work through their emotions. When they’re young, teach them that it’s ok to take some space to “cool off” before coming back to deal with a situation. Staying active in the outdoors is a great way for them to disengage from any uncomfortable feelings they are experiencing and can provide them with a safe mental space to work through them. 






#32 - How to deal with discomfort and doing hard things

Whether it’s dealing with the cold, being hungry, or even sore from a long day’s hike, it is healthy for kids to know what it feels like to encounter discomfort and to know how to manage it. Be supportive and willing to talk them through the discomfort while they are dealing with it, but don’t remove their opportunity to learn from it by completely removing the issue they are experiencing. 



#33 - Understand the natural consequences of decisions

When you’re in the great outdoors, your decisions will naturally come with consequences—making mother nature herself a great teacher. For example, if you didn’t get up early enough to start your hike, there’s the possibility that you will be setting up your camp only by the light of your headlamp. If you eat too many marshmallows or s’mores, you’ll probably get a bit of a stomach ache and need to drink extra water before you start hiking again. 



#34 - Learn how to plan and take time to rest and recover

The ability to rest, restore, and sustain your well-being is a necessary part of survival. While on a trip, it’s easy to push yourself past your limits and try to experience everything that you can. The thing is that when we do this, our body will naturally fall out of alignment and function less efficiently than it normally would because it’s trying to keep us functioning at the same pace as before, but without time to rest. Build in “zero days,” or days without an agenda or a specific number of miles to cover so that your bodies and minds can take advantage of that precious recovery time. 





#35 - Learning to trust each other

There are countless opportunities to demonstrate the power and importance of working together. Whether it’s relying on someone to keep you safe while they belay you as you climb, working with a partner to set up the tent, or needing your whole family unit to paddle in unison on a raft, learning to depend and trust one another to hold their own weight is an important lesson that can help draw your family closer together. 



#36 - How to push your limits

While still taking time to rest, there is no better time to try new things and push your boundaries than when you are out in nature’s playground. Develop small goals to accomplish as a family so that everyone can be encouraging when trying to accomplish it together. Maybe you want to cover more miles than you ever have in a single day, or maybe you’d like to try out a brand new activity, either way, it’s important for kids to feel safe to venture into these new experiences to discover what they are truly capable of. 



#37 - How to reflect on your own experiences

It’s easy to have an amazing trip, come home, and simply go back to daily life as normal. That’s a missed opportunity because people who have adventured for years understand that you learn lessons and have experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Take time to talk through daily events during your evening campfires, encourage them to write in their journals before bed, and walk them through how to communicate what they’ve learned on the trail with their friends once they get home.  





#38 - Awareness of other people’s experiences

Exploring the outdoors with people of different skill levels and abilities is a great way to learn empathy and understand that not everyone enjoys the outdoors in the same way. Some people are content with setting up a nice campsite and relaxing with a good book, while others may prefer to keep hiking and exploring right up until it’s dark. It’s helpful to point out to your kids that it’s ok to find your own way to enjoy the outdoors. As long as you are respectful to the outdoor spaces and to the people who will visit those areas after you, there’s no wrong way to explore the outdoors. 



#39 - Can help with ADHD symptoms, attention spans

For families looking to help their children who have low attention spans or even diagnosed ADHD, a national study published in the American Journal of Public Health provides some helpful findings. The study found that spending time in natural, green settings can drastically reduce ADHD symptoms and improve a child’s ability to concentrate. 





#40 - Be yourself, but with a trail name

There’s a tradition among thru-hikers to use a “trail name” rather than using their own name when meeting other travelers. Why not embrace this trend with your family? It may even help your kids feel more adventurous and help them to try new things that they wouldn’t normally do because now they are acting under their trail identity. 



#41 - Improved vision

Recent research has demonstrated that children who spend more time outdoors have a lower risk of developing nearsightedness. This may be due to the vitamins your body is exposed to in larger amounts when you spend time outside, or it could be that using your eyes in varying amounts of light and distances strengthens them like muscles. Just make sure to still wear proper eye protection to avoid damage from the sun’s rays. 



#42 - Boosted immune system

Vitamin D is a necessary vitamin for preventing chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes and can help ward off everyday ailments like the flu and colds. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that over 85% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. The primary way that we receive vitamin D is through exposure to direct sunlight, so when families spend more time outdoors, they receive a healthy dose of vitamin D. 





#43 - Lower risk of depression and anxiety

In addition to supporting a healthy immune system, vitamin D can also help reduce your risk of depression and anxiety. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “forest bathing” or soaking up the forest atmosphere, can promote lower concentrations of cortisol, a lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, and can calm the nervous system.  



#44 - Delayed gratification

No more climbing into a bed with fluffy sheets and a house with heat or A/C. And forget using a microwave to warm up a quick meal. Life on the trail takes a bit more work than that. Little things that normally don’t take long at home, such as doing the dishes, can take way longer while on the trail, so kids will be put in situations where either they offer to help or they have to be patient. 





#45 - Use past trips and experiences to inform future experiences

When you’re going somewhere new, ask probing questions to remind your kids how past experiences might be helpful on this new trip. This helps them practice connecting the dots between seemingly different situations, a useful skill with many practical applications since they will face unknown situations during many phases of their life.



#46 - Proactive behaviors

The great outdoors is a fantastic “lab” for learning to take initiative. When your kids say things like, “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” or “I’m bored,” you can ask them what they can do themselves to fix it. If they’re waiting for you to take them to another activity but you can’t leave until everything is packed up, remind them that if they help out, they can make things go faster. 



#47- It gives you, the parent, the chance to practice “letting out the leash” 

It’s hard to watch your kid get hurt or struggle, but sometimes that’s what they need to develop their own way of doing things. Give your kids the space to solve their own problems, rather than solving them for them. And let them take age-appropriate risks so they can push their own boundaries.  





#48 - How to take risks and define boundaries

All outside activities include potential for risk. With a supervised environment and encouraging a sense of adventure, kids can engage in activities that pose a little more risk than what they normally encounter, and can find ways to safely navigate them. 



#49 - Resiliency and doing hard things

Taking our families outside gives them opportunities to show that they can endure tough things, overcome challenges, conquer what they previously thought they could never do, and inspire their fellow explorers to do the same. 






50. It’s fun!

We spend time outside because to put it simply, it's fun! You get to be creative, explore new things, and create memories that last a lifetime. For us at JAX, helping you be able to do the activities you love is the best part of doing what we do. 

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