31 Ways to Help Kids Trade Screens for Streams

by Todd Walker

“Go outside and play” were words rarely spoken in our home growing up. “Come inside and eat” was the usual echo coming from the back door.

31-ways-to-help-kids-trade-screens-for-streams

Nothing indoors held my attention like the woods and streams of my youth. Curiosity drove me and my band of woodland brothers to explore the next creek bend, hilltop and raven. We were amazed by all creatures great and small. All the while imagining Daniel Boone leading our scout party with animal calls from cupped hands. We threw knives at our feet in games of wit and courage, climbed trees, built forts and tree houses. We camped under open skies on horseback, walked barefoot, sprawled in fields of clover, caught crawfish, frogs, and snakes. We’d swim underwater through jagged wooden crates in the muddy farm pond, fished with a homemade cane pole after digging for worms, discovered poison ivy, chiggers, nettles, and yellow jacket nests, shot bows and arrows, sling shots… and managed to retained our sight after many a BB gun battle (not recommended – but very instructive). We managed to return home smelling of campfires and creek mud.

All without adult supervision!

Our wild adventures took place before the video game era. Do you remember a time… before screens replaced streams?

Many blame the “easy” entertainment industry and techno babysitters for the apathy and aversion to the outdoors in kids these days. If electrical outlets and wifi were available on the river bank, Johnny would take more fishing trips with grandpa.

There’s no denying the usefulness of our modern information age. But… is this modern tool using us instead of us using it? In our age of glowing screens and systematic knowledge, our children (and many grownups) have lost touch with the hands-on, down and dirty, wonder of nature.

We’ve become domesticated animals. Bored. Pacing in our cages we and society built. The days of running the woods like savages to bring home nature’s treasures are being replaced with watching all manner of things gone wild on video and TV. Our faith in high-tech is a poor substitute for the real thing.

Trade Screens for Streams

Our feral genes scream for streams not screens! This primal urge has always lurked within.

There’s no condemnation or finger-pointing here. Instead, a simple call to action to get out there. Outside where the wild things live. Where curiosity knows no bounds. Where boredom is swallowed by wonder. Where life is not artificial and sanitized but raw and real. Where constant distractions and advertisements ends.

With summer break approaching, schooled kids will finally be freed from concrete captivity and mind-numbing restraints. No longer stuffed with useless facts and test taking strategies, kids can be feral and free. Wet, filthy, cold, hot, sweaty, curious, healthy and living their wildest dreams!

“My children don’t like being outdoors,” you may be thinking to yourself. That’s why I’m writing to you, the parent, grandparent, aunt, or friend. Your job is to foster feral activities that reconnect your child to the natural world. Notice I used foster, not force. When they yell, “I’m bored!”, your role as a feral facilitator begins. Please don’t couch your nature proposal as an educational experience. Simply get them outside and they will teach themselves as they follow their self-directed interest. Safely supervise without smothering their creativity and curiosity.

Backyard or mountain side, nature is just outside your door. Even apartment dwellers can find natural spaces for feral gene expression. If you live in a neighborhood with restrictive HOA rules, a tree house in the front yard may not work. But backyard fire pits could make a heck of a summertime mini wilderness camp site – tents included!

Your re-wilding efforts are only limited by your imagination. This list is not exhaustive but is meant to spark wild thoughts.

31 Ways to Help Get Your Child Outdoors

  1. Catch lighting bugs in early evening. Place them in a vented glass jar and release them at dawn. What makes them light up?
  2. Star gaze. Lay out a blanket and stare at the universe around us. Identify as many constellations as possible. Discuss navigation techniques using stars.
  3. Revive the art of story telling. It’s a dying art.
  4. Puddle stomping. After or during a rain (not lightning) storm, stomp through the mud puddles. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing.
  5. Build a fort, shanty, shelter, or tree house. Then camp in your fortress.
  6. Trail blaze. Hoof it through the woods or local park. Introduce navigation with a compass and topographical map.
  7. Climb a tree – while it’s still legal. Excellent physical training and it’s what kids do!
  8. Spot a critter. All mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles are fair game. First one to 10 wins.
  9. Night moves. With a full moon, take a family walk in the dark. Listen to the night sounds. Bring a flashlight for back up. Kids love flashlights!
  10. Backyard camping. Set up a backyard tent or tarp shelter over the jungle gym and spend some nights there.
  11. Graduate to car or pioneer camping as skills increase.
  12. Take a digital hike. No, not on the computer. Document plants, trees, animals, and tracks with a camera for later identification.

    31-ways-to-help-kids-trade-screens-for-streams

    Look for animals too

  13. Sketch and draw wild stuff. Even if you think there’s not an artistic bone in your body. Nature brings out creativity in us all.
  14. Discover little things. Roll a dead log over and count the life forms under it. Replace their house gently. Come back in a week to see what’s new.
  15. Feral Food Walk. Learn to safely identify, harvest, and prepare wild foods. Wild food resources can be found on our site – Here.
  16. Go fish. Use a rod andreel, cane pole, or limb hooks to harvest dinner. The worst day of fishing is better than the best day at school or work!

    31-ways-to-help-kids-trade-screens-for-streams

    She was caught on a fly rod

  17. Feral Food Walk. Learn to safely identify, harvest, and prepare wild foods. Wild food resources can be found on our site – Here.
  18. Keep a Wild Journal. Write down questions, observations, and feelings you experience as you re-wild. Go back to the same place in different seasons and record the differences.
  19. Fox walk. Maneuver through the woods as quietly as possible… barefoot. You’ll experience more of nature, see more animals, and hear bird songs that are missed when trudging through a forest.
  20. Get grounded. Bare feet on the earth is called grounding or earthing and offers many health benefits. Don’t miss out on the fun!
  21. Bushcraft. Bushcrafting is simply learning to craft stuff in the bush. While learning these skills, your child’s self-reliance quotient increases. Recommended resources: Wilderness Outfitters, Bushcraft on Fire, One Foot Into The Wild
  22. Find a personal wild space. It could be in your backyard, park, or vacant lot in the neighborhood. This is the safe place where you recharge. It should afford some amount of privacy and freedom to discover your wild nature.
  23. Nurture wild free play. The less adult supervision the better. Of course, supervision depends upon age, maturity level, skills, and setting. Children learn through play. Recommended resource: Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
  24. Archery. Introduce your child to the world of archery. Take advantage of an increased interest in archery created by the Hunger Games books and movies. 31-ways-to-help-kids-trade-screens-for-streams
  25. Summer camp. I’ve run many youth camps over the years. Find one with a focus on wilderness skills and nature.
  26. Field guides. Acquire field guides for wild and medicinal plants, trees, native animal species, animal tracks, birds, reptiles, etc., etc. Humans tend to value what we can name.
  27. School work. The school class I learned the most from was 6th grade English. Not because my Aunt Cindy taught it, but because she let us take time to sit under trees to write and draw as a class. We published a book of poetry and drawing which my mom kept after all these years. Great creative memories of connecting with nature came from her English class.
  28. Wild cards. Make your own field guide cards. Start with easily identifiable plants. Sketch/draw a diagram and write a description on the back of the index card.
  29. Get naked. Not literally, kids. Leave all electronic devices behind and pack minimal gear. This strategy is best for teens who have developed basic wilderness skills.
  30. Skip Stones. Find smooth, flat stones and throw them sidearm across a pond. Count the number of skips on the water’s surface.
  31. Race ‘Ships’. Choose a small stick and set it adrift on a creek or steam in a race to the finish line. Use your bushcraft skills to build a mini log raft and test it in the water.

Up for the challenge of cutting the electronic umbilical cord? Modeling and facilitating is your job. There’s no app for that. However, kids will follow your enthusiasm and their natural, primal curiosity of our ever-changing natural world if given the chance. Get out there. They will follow and get lost in the right direction!

Here’s a family Doing the Stuff in the wild with their kids…

We’d really like to know any methods you’ve found useful in the re-wilding process. Thanks for sharing the stuff that works for you!

Keep Doing the Wild Stuff,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, and our Facebook page… and over on the Doing the Stuff Network on PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook.

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Thanks for sharing the stuff!

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Categories: 180 Mind Set Training, Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Resilience, Self-reliance, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “31 Ways to Help Kids Trade Screens for Streams

  1. The children I see everyday are very over-scheduled and controlled. Part of this is parents want their children to have “enrichment” activities beyond the state-run school and the other is a subtle societal change that makes you a “bad parent” if you let your children run-free. If you buck this trend you might get a visit from social services! I don’t know if you’re neighborhood is like mine but you never see groups of children playing outside without adults.

    I am also old enough to have had the run of a small town where I lived. If I wasn’t in the dreaded state-run school, I was outside with by friends walking, biking and exploring. My forests were the “wastelands” of our town. My river was a seasonal creek running through a culvert. For a child, the beauty of nature can be found on any land.

    I want my children to have freedom. My girls have the run of our private land. But I don’t do any “enrichment activities” for them. Children pick that stuff up by just watching what their parent’s actually do or they can pick up one of the numerous books around the house about nature and primate skills and ask for help… or not. This is where the transmission of valuing nature occurs… or not.

    • Very well stated, Caroline. The state breeds a fear-based helicopter parenting mentality. I’m sure my parents would’ve been run in and put under the jail by today’s standards.

      Have you read Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray? I’ve found it fascinating how children learn self-reliance and life skills through play.

  2. Chewylouie

    Good tips. I don’t have kids, but I have young cousins and I can see how early they start playing with computers instead of playing outside, or even playing with toys inside. When I was younger (and even now) I didn’t have to be told to go fishing or hunting or to go build a fort or cabin or just play. I had to ask. Now I wish someone would tell me I could drop my responsibilities and go fishing, or hunting or whatever, but, thats not likely. I personally can’t possibly understand how a computer could replace a fishing or hunting trip, or going outside to do some target shooting (bow or firearm). It is a little easier to under stand about building a cabin, but I still think hard work is fun. Not easy, but fun. Speaking of not supervised, I think it was like 7 or 8 years old (maybe younger) that I was aloud to go fishing by myself.

    • Thanks for the comment Chewy! Children need to have freedom to play and experience nature first hand. The best teacher for a child is the child.

  3. Pingback: 31 Ways to Help Kids Trade Screens for Streams | Patriot Rising

  4. mojaverose22

    Start ‘em young! Our grandson loves nothing better than to dig in the dirt/sand and load up his trucks. He’s 2 and a half, yes he has “screens” already, but would rather play in mud and follow his dogs around. We have 3 acres, his parents half that, so plenty of space, and we feel pretty safe with him wandering around with the dogs as they keep the snakes and what-not out of the yard. At his age, we watch constantly from the house, so he thinks he”s on his own and exploring, but we know immediately if there’s a problem. I believe part of the problem with most kids today is people are so concerned over safety that they won’t let kids be themselves and have time alone to explore. You have to let them breathe and learn to feel confident and independent!

    • You nailed it, mojaverose! Safe is a relative term. Confining and hovering over kids is a life of fear and stifles kids in every manner.

      Thanks for your views!

  5. Pingback: Summer PREP School: 48 Survival Skills for Kids to Learn This Summer! - Survival Mom

  6. Pingback: Passing Down Self-Reliance Skills to My Seven Year Old Grandson | Survival Sherpa

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