Rebecca Cohen is the spokesmom for the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There program and the author of the book, "Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids." Last week, she took the time to talk to me about how she gets her own kids outside and how her experiment to get them outdoors for at least 15 minutes every day has changed her family.
MNN: Were your kids resistant to the idea of getting outdoors every single day?
Cohen: At any given time, I had one child who would be excited about going outside and another who wasn't. It depended upon what they were doing at the time. But as I got outside more with them, I got a better idea of their interests and came up with better ideas to encourage them to come out. For my oldest, all I had to say was that I was going outside to kick the ball around and then head out the door and he would come right on out after me. My youngest, on the other hand, loves gardening, so I would just tell him that it's time to plant the first veggies and he couldn't wait to follow me outside to plant them.
What do you do on days when your kids are happily playing inside, but you want them to get outside?
I go with them. I play soccer with my oldest and garden with my younger son. To be honest, they may be whining initially when they head out the door, but within five minutes they will forget that they were upset with me because it just feels good to get outside. And I like that my kids and I are interacting in a way that we weren't before.
How has this experiment changed your family?
Getting outside each day is now a part of my family's natural routine. It's really not something we even think about anymore. It's our time to be connected as a family.
I love that your book is divided up by seasons so that I can focus right on the activities that are appropriate for each time of year. Can you break it down even further and give me your favorite activities for different age groups?
Babies: Just bring a blanket outdoors and allow your baby to rest in the sunshine and take in some nature. As an added bonus, it gives parents a quiet moment to sit outdoors and get some fresh air, too. If you're ready to get active, grab your baby and a stroller and go for a walk. To mix it up, try taking a "Senses Walk" — on the first block, point out all of the interesting sights to your baby, on the second block, focus on smells, and sounds on the third.
2-4 year olds: This is the age where kids get a lot from learning how to plant a seed. Focus on big seeds like peas or sunflowers. Gardening with young kids is a great way to start their love of gardening while helping them learn more about nature.
School-aged kids: Stash some pocket nature guides in your car. It will give your kids something to look through when they're bored, and get the dialogue started about nature when they're outside. If you have room in your yard, you might also consider planting a butterfly garden. This type of milkweed garden will attract monarchs [butterflies] to your yard. And kids will love the chance to watch the life cycle as monarchs change from caterpillars, enter into a chrysalis, and emerge as monarch butterflies.
Teens and tweens: At this age, you need to focus on your child's interests and be prepared to try new things. Take a family vote and let your kids have a say in the outdoor activity, even if it's something that you've never done before like rock climbing or kayaking. I always tell parents not to be afraid to try something new. You'll either love it or you'll have a really good story to tell!