You talk with your kids about God and faith issues. They hear Bible stories from you and Sunday School teachers. But there’s something that you can give to your kids beyond words to help them grow in awe of God, and that’s time outdoors in Creation. Again and again, the Bible affirms that Creation declares God’s glory (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20, Psalm 66:4, Job 12:7-10, among others).
Unfortunately, outdoor time for kids is shrinking at a rapid rate. An NIH article states that children’s time outdoors dropped significantly during Covid, while screen time increased substantially.
No surprise, right?
But did you know, “…today’s children are spending half the time playing outside than their parents did, a trend echoed internationally.” And, “A government-funded survey in England suggests children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates.”
Kids are missing out on the profound benefits of outdoor time. “Getting kids outdoors can reduce the negative effects of screen time.” And there are numerous other benefits – “… physical health, social-emotional mental health and wellbeing, cognition and academic learning.” As an occupational therapist, I’m in two-thumbs-up agreement with the importance of these benefits.
But it’s interesting that the research doesn’t consider our kids’ spiritual health!
How creation declares God’s glory
Romans 1:20 says, “…since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” Helping your kids see God in Creation is a valuable part of outdoor time and vital to their understanding of God’s power, majesty, beauty, creativity, and even joy!
Creation declares God’s playfulness
Joy Wendling (Connected Families Certified Parent Coach) states, “I see the playfulness of God in creation, from the ever-changing sunrises and sunsets to some of the crazily creative (rather hilarious) creatures God has made.” For a good chuckle with your kids, check out this video of various bird dances. (It appears God has a sense of humor too!)
Creation declares God’s magnificence
Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
One mom’s boys recently read the fact that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on Earth combined. While sitting on the sand at the beach, her boys started a conversation with each other about how big and powerful God must be to create so many stars. We can’t even imagine the number of grains of sand on this planet! Kids can enter into the awe of God’s magnificence and power as they look at the sky, a big waterfall, a tall mountain, or an intense storm.
Creation declares God’s tenderness
Watch your child’s excitement over a nest of chirping baby birds. So much excitement and love burst naturally from your child’s heart as they reflect on God’s joy over His Creation. As Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” (Matthew 10:29) God is tender and kind to the creatures He created, and being outside provides opportunities for your kids to connect with God’s tenderness.
And God’s tenderness is evident in how He makes flowers: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27)
And so many more ways we see God in Creation…
Encounters with strong wind may inspire conversations about the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). A walk by a farm might trigger a discussion on our hearts and how God’s word takes root or doesn’t (Matthew 13). A large tree by a stream or body of water might invoke awe and thoughts of what it means to be planted by waters of life, spiritually (Jeremiah 17:8). And what does it mean to be an “oak of righteousness”?
If you try to force Bible verses into these outdoor times, it might feel stilted and possibly even manipulative. But for families that regularly talk about God and the Bible, these verses and other thoughts about God will naturally flow out of seeing God’s creation. Your kids may even be the ones to start the conversation.
And as you enjoy God’s creation together, you can help kids get in touch with God’s enjoyment of them! Ask your kids: When was a time you made a special gift for someone, even if it was just coloring a pretty picture? Did it give you joy to watch that person enjoy it? Do you think it gives God joy when we enjoy the gift of Creation that He has given us?
But how do you get kids outside more?
Maybe you’re convinced – you really want to get your kids outside exploring nature, but the moaning and groaning ramp up when you suggest that your kids put down their screens and head outdoors. We get it. It can be challenging. So we turned to the Connected Families “Insiders Team” for lots of ideas from parents who are in the middle of that challenge with you.
How To Help Kids See God in Nature | Ep. 134
Getting outside is so good for so many reasons! Check out this podcast to listen to Jim and Lynne Jackson talk about their experiences getting their kids outside.
7 practical ideas to get kids out in God’s creation
1. Communicate passion, not frustration.
Our bodies and brains were designed to thrive in natural environments. Do your kids really know that? Do they know you care about that?
There is often a significant difference between how kids respond to a parent based on the parent’s heart motivation. Consider the difference between communicating (verbally or nonverbally), “You’re kind of driving me crazy. Go outside,” or, “I’m committed to whatever is best for you! And lots of outdoor time is essential.” Ask the Lord to deepen your passion if this is a struggle for you. Then make sure your kids know why you are passionate about them living their best life.
2. Plan ahead.
There are lots of ways to start small as you get outside, but if you want to start camping with kids, don’t dive in over your heads. You can plan a series of “just right challenges.” For example:
- Take a nature hike in a county park, followed by a picnic dinner over an open fire.
- Go for an overnight or weekend in a camper cabin.
- Reserve campsites for a couple of consecutive weekends and go on the best weather weekend.
- Plan a longer camping trip with a family you all enjoy or that could mentor you in the “ways of the wild.”
3. Set and track a goal.
Family meetings increase kids’ sense of ownership as you gather their ideas about favorite ways to get outside. And you can decide together what challenge to take on about getting outside.
One family took the challenge from Ginny Yurich, leader of the worldwide movement and updated book called 1,000 Hours Outside. “Since 2017, we have strived to get outside for 1000 hours yearly. Setting a goal and tracking it has really motivated each of us to spend some significant time outside. We try to get outside every day, even on cold, wintery days. We have tried to find activities that each of the kids enjoys in every season. Tubing, skiing, sledding, ice skating, and snowshoeing in the winter. Jumping in mud puddles, floating boats in streams and running water, long walks, bird watching…”
Korrie and Nick’s family set a goal together to visit every state park in Minnesota, and they kept track of their progress on an Etsy State Park Adventurer’s Checklist. (You could find one for your location or get a state park map and highlight the ones you’ve visited.) Even if you aren’t an “outdoorsy person,” you can grow in this area. Korrie stated, “I didn’t grow up spending much time outside, but I have loved visiting state parks with our kids. It’s so special to teach them about God’s creation.”
4. Build routines.
Creating a routine that includes outside time can eliminate the difficulty of pulling kids away from their favorite activities. An after-school routine of snacks and then heading outside can regulate and prepare kids’ brains and bodies for any homework, chores, or activities they have for the rest of their day. It’s a great reset after the stress of school.
Brenda built wisdom and self-control in her kids about their screen time, and a key part of her approach was getting them outdoors every day after breakfast (when not in school) before any other activities. Read about how she transformed their summer screen use from “My kids were determined to get their hands on some manner of glowing device – no matter what” to “I don’t think there was one day when the kids used technology more than 1 hour total, unless possibly on a rainy day.”
5. Engage kids’ creativity.
Joining kids in creativity about nature shows your value of it and provides lots of opportunities to talk about Jesus the Creator. And a great way to be creative as you learn about nature is to dabble in phenology. I hadn’t even heard of phenology until a parent from the CF community mentioned how that was a crucial part of her family’s enjoyment of the outdoors! Phenology studies how changing seasons impact living things and the environment. It can include biological events like migrations, egg laying, flowering, and hibernation. Scientists use phenology wheels to capture and share what is happening in nature. Here are lots of examples to get you started with your kids.
Making fun crafts out of things you find in the wild is a real win – you’re outdoors and then really engaging kids’ creativity. Or you can design a simple nature scavenger hunt. You can also order National Geographic Magazine for Kids or The Kids’ Nature Book.
6. Experiment with new outdoor activities.
7. Embrace the challenges.
Plan your outdoor activities well with breaks and snacks, but have reasonable, kid-friendly expectations for time outdoors. It’s not always going to go well. Still, the upside is that besides all the learning about God’s creation, lots of outdoor time also teaches kids to expect the unexpected and develop flexibility. Teach your kids: We’ll either have fun, or we’ll grow resilience. Either way, it’s a win!
This is not “shame on you” if you don’t get your kids outdoors for two or three hours a day. It’s an invitation to slow your pace enough that it becomes more natural to get outdoors with your kiddos and enjoy it.
So set a small doable goal to help your family get a little refreshed out in God’s beautiful creation as you marvel at what you learn about our Creator. And, as you slowly rewire and “rewild” your child’s brain, you’ll probably find that you enjoy more peace and connection indoors too!
60 Ways to Get Kids Moving and Laughing
Fun movement helps keep everyone sane!
This list of over 60 ideas includes activities to calm angsty kids, as they also gain strength, balance, and coordination… all with a good dose of learning and laughter.