Using Nature to Keep Kids Active

When my kids were in preschool, I used to go out of my way to get them to a neighborhood park every single day, at least once a day.

Now that they are older, I am sadly coming to terms with the fact that they are gradually losing interest in park play time. One active pastime that never seems to lose its allure, however, is climbing trees.

Trees are amazing. They help clean the air by absorbing carbon monoxide. They are the only natural source of oxygen we have, consuming carbon dioxide to maintain a natural balance in the atmosphere. They provide shelter for animals and shade for us to enjoy. Trees give us food, as well as paper and certain medicines. Without these amazing plants, life on earth could not exist as we now know it. But why are trees so fascinating to children? Is it innate?

Maybe it’s the warm invitation of a tree’s outstretched branches, their beckoning limbs like open arms to children. Something about a tree poised gracefully in the middle of a quiet, grassy field, or one growing bent over in solitude toward the ground, calls to children. Even alongside a busy city street, a single tree jutting out of the sidewalk naturally draws kids, anxious to test their own limbs and scramble to the top. Kids are natural climbers. They are agile and flexible, their upper bodies boasting greater strength in comparison to their lower halves, still lighter in composition.

What about tree additions? Can anything in childhood be more magical than a tree house? My son wants nothing more than his own private hideaway in a tree where he can lay out plans for his secret agent games, or just to have a quiet place to “get away” from the rest of the world. Hang something as basic as a rope from a study limb, and you have a rope swing that can provide hours of enjoyment and simple entertainment. Kids love simple swings and pulleys!

As parents, because we try to be so conscientious about providing our kids with stimulating manufactured goods, classes, and outlets, I think we sometimes neglect the simple ones nature provides for us. We enroll them in gymnastics, but often we need not travel any further than our own backyards to give our kids an active opportunity. Even if you don’t have a yard that hosts great trees to climb (sadly, we do not- my son is still dreaming of that tree house), thankfully, trees are just about everywhere.

Trees, like any other climbing structure, do require supervision. Remember to always spot your child while she is climbing. Do not allow her to climb trees with hard surfaces near the base. Remind her to never overreach for limbs beyond her grasp. Finally, do not allow your child to wear her bike helmet while scaling a tree. Contrary to popular belief, using a helmet is not a safer way to climb; a child can be strangled if the straps of her helmet inadvertently become caught on a branch.

Here is to the simple pleasures all around us, the ones we sometimes forget to look for and savor. The next time your little monkey is craving a fun physical challenge, maybe a tree is all they need?

Fun Books about Trees to Inspire Your Child:

Be a Friend to Trees By Patricia Lauber

The Giving Tree By Shel Silverstein

Why Do Leaves Change Color? By Betsy Maestro

A Tree is a Plant By Clyde Robert Bulla

The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree By Gail Gibbons

The Apple Pie Tree By Zoe Hall