leafGuidelines for Mentors

Take a Child Outside

“Going to the hills or beaches to discover what’s out there, sharing adventures, reveling in the pleasure of being out in nature – these are far more important than knowing the names of things. What kids need to learn is a sense of the beautiful, to be excited by new discoveries, to yearn for a view of what is just around the corner. Once they have experienced these things, and the imagination has been inflamed, the quest for knowledge will come.” Raymond Ford, Jr. Santa Barbara Day Hikes

Focus on fun

Spending time outside should be fun for both parent and child. It’s not a chore on a to-do list. Break away from everyday concerns and give yourself permission to focus on creative, unstructured play.

Model wonder and curiosity

Children have forgotten how to use their sense in the outdoors. Encourage looking closely, smelling, feeling, listening. There is always something new to discover. Slow down. Pay attention to small things.

Model active participation

No cell phones. Be present with the child. Explore with an open mind. Be ready to respond with shared excitement. Replace “be careful” with “be aware.” Words do matter.

Be flexible

Nature is not predictable. That’s why it is so much fun. Long walks can turn into a short walk for a long time. Change paths when another route looks more interesting. Look for the “teachable moment.” Start with a plan but be willing to follow the child’s interest.

Adapt for age

Children enjoy a challenge but it must not be overwhelming. Distance and effort must be balanced with providing for children’s needs. At every level, children should be allowed some independent exploration. Children will develop skill and confidence when they are allowed to be out of eyesight.

Adjust for learning styles

There are many ways to be smart and every child has a unique way of learning. Word smart children enjoy talking about what they are experiencing. Children with number/logic smarts like to count, sort, and classify. Picture smart learners enjoy maps, patterns, colors, and designs in nature. Body smart learners need to run, hike, jump, climb, balance. Music/rhythm smart learners listen to and learn the calls of birds, the sounds of a bubbling stream. People smart learners enjoy group activities. Self smart learners need to keep a nature journal and have time to explore on their own. Nature smart learners connect intimately with the natural world and seem to absorb the natural world. Pay attention to the child’s lead and provide more opportunities that fit their own learning style.

Be prepared

The scout motto is still important. Advance planning can lead to successful adventures. Put together a nature backpack that can be grabbed quickly when you are ready to go outdoors. Ideas for an explorer’s kit include: magnifying glass, binoculars, plastic bags for collecting, field guides, notebook and pencil, camera, water bottle, sunscreen, bug repellant. Take what you need to be comfortable, even if the weather changes.

Be realistic about the dangers

Learn to recognize and avoid poison oak. That’s a good reason to stay on trails. Insects bites are not that awful unless the child has an allergy. Sunburn can be prevented. Mosquito bites are not life-threatening. Bumps, bruises, and skinned knees are a normal part of childhood. Be as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible. Staying indoors is not a healthy way to raise children.

Avoid getting stung

Wear shoes and long pants. Cover food at picnics. Don’t swat at bees – stay calm and move away slowly or stand still. If a child has a severe reaction to insect stings, carry a bee sting kit.

Avoid snakes

Wear boots and loose fitting pants in rocky areas where rattlesnakes might be found. Leave snakes alone. Stay on trails and watch where you place your hands and feet.

Avoid ticks

Wear long pants and sleeves. Tuck pants legs into your socks. Apply repellant to clothing. Conduct a body check upon return from tick-infested areas. Properly remove attached ticks.

Prevent heat-related illness

Drink plenty of fluids. Wear appropriate clothing that is light colored and loose fitting. Limit activity in the heat of the day choosing early morning and late afternoon for outdoor activities.

Prevent cold weather problems

Dress warmly in layers with hat, scarf, and mittens or gloves. Stay dry or get out of wet clothes immediately.

Celebrate the benefits

The benefits of being outdoors with a child outweigh the risks as long as you use common sense. Enjoy spending time together and share activities you enjoyed outdoors as a child. Children who play outside are smarter, healthier, and happier.