Kids need to be outside. Here are some great ideas for maximizing nature time.
By Jane Marshall
Science continues to prove it. Kids do better when they have time in nature.
My immediate response to writing the above comment is: Duh. Of course they do! Since humans became human, we’ve been intimately linked to our surroundings. Collecting water, working with fire, and forming subsistence relationships with the world around us. It’s how we’ve survived up to this point.
But in our modern world, we may have taken this comfort thing a little too far. Perhaps we’ve created a division between ourselves and the outside world that’s actually harming us. A lack of Vitamin D, compulsion-based technology use, and feelings of isolation and loneliness are all byproducts of forgetting to spend time outside.
Thank goodness creative people are paddling against this current. Like Takaharu and Yui Tezuka of Tezuka Architects, who created the World’s Best Kindergarten outside of Tokyo, Japan. It’s a place where kids get to run free through indoor-outdoor spaces, and interact with trees and animals:
Doctors are dealing with the effects of what some call ‘nature deficit disorder.’ They are even prescribing time outdoors as a way to decrease the symptoms of ADHD and children’s anxiety.
Here are a few research-based stats on why kids need to be connected to nature, from the Children & Nature network:
- It reduces anxiety. Children in Maryland and Colorado who played in green schoolyards reported less stress compared to their peers.
- It improves focus. One study of kids in Illinois found that even just a twenty-minute walk in the park led to a substantial attention boost.
- It makes kids smarter. Researchers found that Barcelona school children with more exposure to outdoor greenery performed better on cognitive testing. The effect was greatest when both home and school environments provided “green” time.
What can we learn from this? Kids need room to move, play, be creative, and they need the open sky and dirt under their fingernails.
Lucky for us, we live in a country with loads of urban parks and wild spaces. Check out these kid-friendly outdoor activities and trips to get inspired.
Stroller Friendly Hikes
Hemlock Grove Boardwalk Trail in Glacier National Park. This is a very short (400m), yet lovely trail near Rogers Pass. It was built to honour Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion World Tour visit in 1987. Step onto the boardwalk and immerse your family in a rainforest environment. After, visit the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre.
Want to camp nearby? Try Illecillewaet Campground — serene, lovely, and a true Canadian family camping experience.
- Elbow Falls, near Bragg Creek. Head to the largest accessible falls in the Kananaskis! This paved trail is perfect for strollers, and there are picnic tables and fire pits along the way.
- Troll Falls, Kananaskis, 3.4km return. This wide path is great for strollers, and makes for a lovely short trip with the reward of a u-shaped waterfall at the end.
- Terwillegar Park Footbridge, Edmonton. The 262 metre long bridge is a fun highlight for kids and parents, and links to extensive river valley trails.
Short Day Hikes for Families
- Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, 2.3km loop. Located west of Calgary, this is a beautiful short hike in a deep coulee. Excellent on a hot day since it’s shady and follows flowing water. For a great hiking description, check out this Hiking with Barry blog post.
- Parks Canada has a great list of family friendly hikes.
- One of my favourite family hikes is Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis. It’s a 4.5km loop taking you into a fragile alpine environment. Extremely rewarding for kids (and parents!) because of the open views.
- Mount Edith Cavell area in Jasper National Park. This area offers 2 options:
- For an easier option, try the Path of the Glacier trail, a 1.6km return trail with interpretive signs and phenomenal views of Angel Glacier.
- For older kids, try the Cavell Meadows trail (6-7 km return). This path takes you up higher for inspiring glacier views and clear, fresh alpine air.