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Think Outside the Box

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 10, 2010

Amid the bustle of the holiday season, take some time for a nostalgic visit back to your childhood. Even if you can only spare a few minutes, let your mind recall memories of being outdoors as a child.

Is there a grin on your face? Just thinking about those times is usually enough to put someone in a sweet frame of mind. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give the children in your life wonderful outdoor experiences that they could enjoy the rest of their lives?

Look at the children around you. Are they building strong relationships with nature, exploring woods, creeks, turtles and polliwogs, as you did as a child?

Most people will begrudgingly answer “no” to that question. Our children spend much more of their lives indoors than did children of previous generations. As a result we are seeing more pudginess, anxiety and hyperactivity among our young.

American children spend an average of 30 hours per week in front of a TV or a computer monitor. This lack of physical activity results in an increase of childhood obesity and an increased frequency of Attention Deficit Disorder. According to a Seattle children’s hospital, each hour per day a child watches TV increases the chance of developing symptoms of ADD by 10 percent.

Research and statistics aside, we instinctively know that nature play and being outdoors is good for the health of children in ways more numerous than the dew drops resting on a spider’s web on a fall morning.

Children tend to play in a healthier manner, feel more self-worth and have more friends if they can play in nature. They also tend to have better attitudes and concentration after being outdoors, and those with ADD show a decrease in symptoms. More than 100 studies have concluded that being in nature reduces stress and the need for mood altering prescription drugs.

Missourians have a rich outdoor tradition. From the time of settlement until recently, the children of the people who lived here—as well as many adults—have spent countless hours wandering in the out-of-doors. They’ve waded Ozark streams, hiked through the oak-pine country of the south, trekked over loess hills and roamed rich farms in the northern part of the state. If no natural environment was available, they investigated overgrown alleys and ditches in Missouri’s towns and cities.

What we’ve learned firsthand from our ramblings, as well as from scientific studies, is that being in nature is a positive experience, and one that we should pass on to the next generation.

Children might not know what they miss by staying inside, but we do. Grandpas, grandmas, aunts, uncles, moms, dads and teachers can help our youngsters have a healthier, richer childhood.

A great opportunity is approaching. The holiday season is the time for giving, especially to children. You can choose gifts that encourage nature play. An outdoor gift might be as simple and practical as hardy outdoor wear that would let the child remain warm while playing outside in the cold. Other good ideas are backpacks, camping equipment, or fishing and hunting supplies. Maybe they’d appreciate a wind-up flashlight or a pocket knife. Another possibility is a “coupon” for a fishing, canoeing or camping trip.

Lots of other gifts might help steer your loved ones “outside the box” and back into nature.

Where can you find great gifts? Many farm, home and outdoor stores have outdoor items that children can use and appreciate. For unique gifts, try the National Arbor Day Foundation, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the St. Louis Science Center, Powell Gardens, St. Louis Zoo, the MDC Nature Shop or the gift shops at your local Conservation Department office.

For more information on putting children in touch with nature, visit any Conservation Department office or visit online. Explore the links listed below to learn more about a national movement called The Children and Nature Network.

Gift Ideas for Kids

Going shopping? Here’s a list to help inspire you. Consider the child’s interests first. There’s something in the outdoors for everyone.

  • Field microscope
  • Flashlight
  • Binoculars
  • Field guides (birds, flowers, insects, etc)
  • Star charts
  • Telescope
  • Insect-viewing containers
  • Butterfly nets
  • Camera
  • Bird house
  • Bird feeder and bird feed
  • Magnifying glass
  • Plaster cast kit
  • CDs of bird songs, insect and frog calls
  • Bow and arrows
  • Slingshot
  • Fishing pole
  • Seine
  • Minnow bucket
  • Backpack
  • Rope
  • Camp shovel
  • Pocket knife
  • Rock hammer
  • Tent
  • Kelly kettle
  • Hammock
  • Sleeping bag
  • Kid’s camping stove
  • Canteen
  • Self warming containers of hot chocolate
  • Books about outdoor adventures
  • Booklet of your memories of being outdoors as a child
  • Rubber boots
  • Insulated overalls
  • Warm boots
  • Mittens or gloves
  • Umbrella
  • Hiking boots
  • Rain coat and pants
  • Warm socks
  • Hand warmers
  • Sled
  • Easel and box of art supplies
  • Ice skates
  • Kayak
  • Hiking stick
  • Snorkel and mask
  • Walkie talkies
  • Topographic maps and compass
  • GPS unit
  • Nature craft book
  • Snow shoes

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