Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Get Outside

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a stressful summer, we took a week long camping trip in Colorado.

Being outdoors for so many days was a great recharge. A great way to relax and get away from those ever-present screens that dominate our lives. A way to breathe and remember how amazing nature is. A way to slow down.

A few things struck me about our trip. First off, before we left nearly everyone we talked to asked us if we were taking our 2 year old with us. When we said yes, many asked if we were tent camping. This is weird to me, as the definition of camping is sleeping in a tent, but we replied yes. Many seemed to think we were brave or crazy or getting into something we didn't understand. Actually, camping with a toddler is about the easiest thing to do with them. Our sprout didn't have a tantrum or meltdown the entire time. He played in the dirt, explored the campsite, watched the birds, built cities out of sticks and rocks. He ate smores and drank from a water bottle and even learned to pee in the woods (which he felt qualified him to be a "mountain boy"). He had free range of our camp and exhausted himself hiking and playing. I honestly believe that some hard-wired part of him understood the dangers of the woods, and so he stayed close.

We often forget that being outdoors is a natural state. Sitting inside with the t.v. and the demands of constant e-mail, artificial light and air, this isn't how we evolved. Kids who play outdoors have a lower incidence of nearsightedness. Outdoor play develops skills and judgmental abilities that are not possible with indoor play. Yet, fewer and fewer people are getting outdoors. This is the other thing that struck me about our trip- we saw noticeably less people in campgrounds and on hiking trails. Some of this may be due to the massive wildfires that struck Colorado in recent months, but we've noticed less people at campgrounds in the Midwest as well, and fewer folks hiking in all the regions we've traveled in the past few years. This type of outdoor play is relaxing for adults and crucial for kids. Not only do we need it for brain development and to lessen the anxieties of our modern world, but we also need to teach kids to appreciate the natural world so they will take a role in preserving it.

Camping and hiking can help put things in perspective- I know when I get home I'm grateful for a flush toilet, a plush bed, climate control, and running water, things that most citizens of the world don't have and that we can easily take for granted. Hike a few miles up a mountain on a rocky trail and you will have a new appreciation for cars and paved roads. I appreciate the luxuries of modern life, but I think our entire family looks forward to our next wilderness trip.

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