by Jennifer Fontaine – Recent studies have revealed the benefit— perhaps even the necessity—of spending time outdoors. For both kids and adults, spending time in nature’s great outdoor spaces makes us smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than those who spend more time indoors, and while it’s unclear exactly how the brain and mood improvements occur, there are a few things we do know about why nature is good for kids’ minds.
Playing in nature builds kids’ confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, teaches responsibility, reduces stress, and provides an alternative form of stimulation to the ever-present technology “brand drain”. But, kids’ high energy levels and endless curiosity, often end up with a higher risk of injury, so as much as it is important to encourage and nurture our children’s outdoor activity, it’s also imperative that we learn how to keep them safe while they’re adventuring. Here are eight ways to ensure safety in the outdoors.
Top Outdoor Safety Tips for Kids
1. Check equipment
Essentials, like kid-friendly snacks, magnifying glass are only part of the equation. Perform regular checks on gear to make sure it’s in good working order before you arrive at an outdoor recreation base or trailhead.
2. Learn basic first aid
Parenting in the outdoors is all about preparation. Take a wilderness first aid class to learn how to identify and treat common injuries and illnesses like dehydration, hypothermia, and heat stroke, and never leave home without a first aid kit.
3. Be aware of the weather
Even if you’ve checked the forecast, weather can change quickly. Even in the summer, exposure to wind and rain can result in hypothermia, so layer up and be ready to call it quits if skies turn ominous.
4. Wear proper footwear
Proper footwear is a vital part of making sure your children are safe when outdoors. When out hiking, make sure you are wearing appropriate trail shoes with foot pad protection. In winter, wear a boot that protect against slips and falls, and in summer the perfect kid’s water shoe can make all the difference in the world.
5. Keep kids dry, warm, and fed
Misery abounds when kids are wet, cold, and hungry. Bring layers, a change of socks and shoes, and plenty of snacks, then watch their explorer superpowers kick.
6. Keep them hydrated
Choosing the right water bottle or reservoir is completely age-dependent. Younger kids will probably be most comfortable carrying a small water bottle, or may even ask a parent hold it for them, whereas older kids are able to shoulder the water-carrying responsibilities of a heavier reservoir. Either way, make sure you have plenty of it on hot days.
7. Keep track of children, at all times
Giving older kids the ability to venture farther down the trail, on their own, is a great way to instill confidence and reinforce basic forest survival skills, but also remember to lay down the rules and let them know expectations before you set them free to wander and explore solo. If you want to experiment with a taste of outdoor freedom, use a GPS tracking system like spyzie, which monitors kids’locations or get a fun set of walkie talkies for on the go communication.
8. Know when to call it quits
As parents, we all have a pretty good radar for “imminent meltdowns” or the dreaded “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Syndrome.” Everyone is allowed to have an off day, so know when it’s time to cut your losses and head home. If hiking becomes a battle, the chances are their affinity for the activity will diminish, so know when to call it quits, and keep on trying.
Essential Gear for Getting Outside with Kids
Designate a ‘Getting Outdoors’ backpack and keep it packed with the following items (no, not the food, too) to make getting outside quick and easy.
- Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon, or satellite messenger
- Headlamp: plus extra batteries
- Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and sunscreen
- First aid kit: including insect repellent
- Knife: plus a gear repair kit
- Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
- Extra food: above what you think you may need
- Extra water: above what you think you may need
- Extra clothes: including an extra pair of shoes and socks
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.