City Slickers No More: Urban Teens & Nature

We spend a lot of time talking about kids here at The Grass Stain Guru, but it’s time to give the teens their due. As the above video highlights so nicely, there are amazing programs going on across the country helping to connect teens with nature in a variety of ways. In the case of urban teens, these programs are often the first exposure they have to nature beyond the birds and squirrels that they may never think to notice in the cityscape.

Time in nature is important to all of us, regardless of age, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. It is one of the most basic of all human needs — a connection to the land where we live and things so much bigger than us. There are treasures to be found there for each off us, and a vital sense of wonder and personal perspective that can only be found in nature.

Words to live by: You never get too old to engage your sense of wonder.

Below you will find 10 tips for helping the teens in your world get outside. It might take a little effort to get older kids and teens unplugged, but it is well worth it.

I would love to hear about other programs that are doing great work — so feel free to add them to the comments section or send me an email.

10 Tips to Get ‘em Outside:

1.    Start when they are young. An obvious tip, but extremely important, is to make sure that the outdoors is part of your family life and your child’s life right from the start. As with anything –  from discipline to healthy eating habits –  if you wait until the teen years to introduce something, it is going to be an uphill battle.

2.    Appeal to the natural interests, whether it’s art, science, sports, or writing. There is an outdoor activity that matches  just about any interest, so that’s a great place to start.

3.    Get their friends involved. It’s natural for teens to travel in groups and to thrive on social interaction with their peers. It’s all part of proper development.  Don’t fight it – harness it. Ask if any of their friends are into outdoor activities and encourage them to join in.

4.    Offer to host an outdoor event, like a hiking trip, a camp-out, or a fishing trip for a small group of their friends. Take along a friend or two of your own, so you can be seen enjoying the activity versus acting as a chaperon.

5.    Tap into service learning requirements at school. Encourage your teen to look into service opportunities at parks, natural refuges, trail systems, and other outdoor venues that offer service hours and unique opportunities to learn new skills and shadow professionals.

6.    Take advantage of outdoor recreation clubs and park and recreation events in your area. You’ll find hikes, kayaking trips, mountain biking clubs, and more. It’s a great way to get older teens involved in a social setting, with a built in safety net of staff from local organizations. Check your local paper or parks and recreation department for opportunities near you.

7.    Put that love a technology to good use! Have your teen find podcasts on outdoor topics to help  guide their exploration or get them to help you learn how to Geocache. Of course, let the technology help guide the experience, but not replace it. Make sure to tuck whatever devices you are using away to fully immerse yourselves in the natural setting.

8.    When school projects come up, help them brainstorm ideas that have an outdoor element, such as stream monitoring, alternative energy solutions, or campus greening projects.

9.    Have your teens plan a special family day trip or weekend get-away. Your only input is distance traveled and a cost limit. Let them take the lead and surprise you.

10.    Set the example. If you are constantly online for work or pleasure, tied to a PDA, or on the phone, you cannot fault your teen for doing the same. Model balance, and let them see you enjoying doing things outside. Fun is contagious!

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

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