All I want for Christmas is to get outside…
Christmas Eve – the shopping rush is done. But there is a last-minute gift that you can still give your kids – and you won’t have to wrap it. Give them the gift of the outdoors. It’s perfect, really, since it’s free, it’s available at any time, and it’s a gift that keeps giving. Perhaps you’ve had to cut back on the gift-giving this year, if the difficult economic times have affected you. Those popular electronic gifts for kids aren’t cheap.
Getting your kids outside will be much healthier for them. Or consider combining the outdoors with one of the iphone field guide applications or an educational electronic “toy” that helps kids learn about nature. At any rate, giving your kids access to the outdoors will be a gift that will last a lifetime. There are plenty of options for getting into the outdoors, depending on their interests, and, they might even gain some valuable life lessons from their encounters with nature.
The educational community agrees that contact with the outdoors is beneficial for kids (and adults, too). If you are familiar with Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods,” and his nationwide grassroots movement to get children back into nature, you will have heard that we are suffering from nature-deficit syndrome. For many of us older folks, being out in nature in childhood was taken for granted. These days, kids just aren’t getting that exposure. Research shows that regular time in the outdoors affects mental health, concentration in school, and physical health (increase in immunity and decrease in obesity). It will also give kids an appreciation of their world and teach values such as respect.
So just how do you give the kids this intangible gift? You can start with a simple walk on Christmas day. The weather in southern Nevada is perfect for a stroll in the winter.
Winter is also a good time for bird-watching in the desert. Many birds winter in the Mojave, and still others are passing through. Some of the delightful avian visitors around the Las Vegas valley include flickers, orioles, and many raptors. Make a bird feeder with your kids and put it out. This is the time of year for the Audubon Christmas bird counts. Find out how you can participate. There are many great sites to go birding around Vegas: Corn Creek, Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, Clark County Wetlands Park, and others. Also have the kids look for nests, which are more easily seen in trees that are bare.
A quick trip up to Mt. Charleston will provide the kids with a change in scenery and a rare opportunity for them to see and play in snow! They might get to see deer or wild horses as well. They can also try their hand at animal tracking.
When spring arrives, take the kids to see the desert’s wildflower bloom and watch for reptiles coming out of hibernation. There are many places with hiking trails.
Try fishing (yes, fishing!) at any number of waterholes in the area. Camp, look for ancient treasures, or play sports.
One of the best ways to give the gift of the outdoors is to present kids with the Nevada Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. This is a new program whose aim is to help you get those kids outside doing all kinds of things. The brainchild of members from different agencies in southern Nevada, the Bill of Rights was put together as a declaration of things that every child in the state should have a right to do at some time in their childhood. Although it may seem like this should be intrinsic, it’s not anymore. So the initiative puts forth the case.
The Southern Nevada Agency Partnership (SNAP) is the lead agency for this initiative and has dedicated some initial funding for its implementation. The UNLV Public Lands Institute (PLI) is coordinating the effort on behalf of SNAP and serves as the point of contact for the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights Alliance and inquiries from the public.
So what does the Outdoor Bill of Rights provide? If you go to the website at http://www.nvoutdoorkids.org, you will find a list of outdoor activities that kids can participate in, along with itineraries of where to go and when, in order to do them. Could it get any easier? Look at the Bill of Rights and have the kids select an activity that they’ve always wanted to try. The website will give you several options for how you can do those activities. Some sites offer coordinated activities, along with educational opportunities. Other sites are open to a variety of activities that you and the kids can do on your own. Most people are not aware of all of the opportunities for outdoor recreation in southern Nevada. And the kids will never appreciate Nevada’s outdoors unless they get out in it.
Other options for getting your kids outside include family nature clubs or after-school clubs. Organizations such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Boys and Girls Clubs offer many group outdoor activities. Also look for community classes, sometimes at recreation centers and parks. The REI stores have a kid’s outdoor program, too.
But perhaps the most important factor in giving the gift of the outdoors to your kids is to overcome ecophobia in yourself. Kids follow their role models in their attitudes and actions, and parents and caregivers need to show by example. Ask yourself what’s really holding you back from experiencing the outdoors. Is it a fear of dangerous critters? Stranger danger? Or maybe you just think that the desert is too harsh a climate to get outside. Educate yourself. There is really only one time of year that is inhospitable to outdoor recreation in the desert, and that’s in the dead of summer. Winter, on the other hand, is a wonderful time. Get to know the creatures of the desert, and you will learn that most of them are not as scary as you might think. You can also learn how to be safe around those that do pose a certain risk. In fact, learning how to be safe is a basic prerequisite for any outdoor recreation, and includes the areas of weather, terrain, and people. Most outdoors people will agree that the benefits of getting outside outweigh the risks.
So make a memorable holiday by giving the kids the priceless gift of the outdoors. And be a part of the present – keep it going by following-up and making it your new year’s resolution to actually take the kids to those sites. You might find yourself as one of the gift recipients as well.