P – Pausing for Play


Photo Adapted from Night Owl @ pixabay.com

I’m supposed to be writing about problem-solving skills today. That was what I told myself when I made my list for the A-Z Blogging Challenge. However, when I sat down to write this morning, all I could think of was watching my sons play outside this past weekend. So, today, I’m pushing the pause button and thinking instead about the value of unstructured play (which has a lot to do with improving problem-solving skills, too).

See, here in Michigan, spring *finally* arrived. After a winter and early spring of temps not getting above 40 degrees (F), the sun came out this weekend and the red in the thermometer shot above 70. We were like people who have been trapped in a dark, wet cave as we walked outside, shielding our eyes from the intense sun we haven’t seen in months. It was glorious!

My husband and I spent the weekend doing yard work—you know, the spring clean-up tasks that seem never-ending this time of year. My sons helped for a short time, but they they got bored (see my earlier post on Imagination for why I find this such a great moment). They went out to their play area, a wooden structure my dad built them surrounded by sand and woods. In a few minutes, they were digging holes (We’re making a mine, Mom!”) and leaning tree branches against a big oak (”Our fort!”). My oldest grabbed a rake to make the front yard of his fort tidy and then called excitedly to show me. Before the weekend was over, they’d played just about every backyard sport they could come up with (anyone for a game of badminton-softball-into a soccer goal?) and replanted some lovely flowers (weeds) into pots to decorate their fort.

At the end of both Saturday and Sunday nights, my sons were filthy, hungry, exhausted—and HAPPY. What more could a parent ask for? I didn’t entertain them or set up fancy games they could play. And neither one once asked to go inside to play with their electronics. They were having too much fun outside playing. They were solving problems with creative solutions.

The benefits of outdoor play have been well documented. This list comes from Head Start Body Start:

  • Become fitter and leaner
  • Develop stronger immune systems
  • Have more active imaginations
  • Have lower stress levels
  • Play more creatively
  • Have greater respect for themselves and others

If you’re into lengthy academic articles (sorry, my kind of thing!), I highly encourage these two articles on the value of outdoor play:

How will you get outside to play today? (And yes, adults need to get outside and play sometimes, too!)

O- Obesity Cure?


Photo adapted from mcconmama @ pixabay.com

I feel a bit like the old snake oil salesmen with my title today. “Come one, come all! Get your obesity cure here!”

Unless you’ve been hiding under a bush out in the forest, you’ve heard that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.and in many other countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have an entire section of their website dedicated to Overweight and Obesity because this is such a concern.Even Michelle Obama has gotten into the discussion by making the reduction of childhood obesity her White House platform. Although there is evidence to suggest that the obesity rates are stabilizing, far too many men, women, and children are negatively affected by weight issues.
As much as I’d like to argue that getting outside will cure obesity, the reality is that many factors contribute to our health. Going outside isn’t going to eliminate food deserts that drive families to fast food and convenience store meals. A walk in the park won’t make the pounds melt away. Curing obesity takes a dedicated effort—and a lot of support.
However, back to that “walk in the park” idea I mentioned a moment ago… If you take a listen to the experts, they all agree on two things:

Obviously, I could keep going, but I’m sure you get the point. While these experts all say reducing obesity is a challenge, they agree that at the heart of the obesity crisis lies a cure: eating well and exercising.
Conveniently enough, I wrote a post about the value of exercising outside a week or so ago…and one about GOOD food, although that was more about the fact that food tastes better when cooked outside.
I may not be able to cure obesity by taking my family outside, but I figure it can’t hurt, right?


N – Natural Beauty


Photo adapted from Sara Juggernaut @ pixaby.com

When I sat down to write my “N” post for the Blogging From A-Z Challenge, I figured writing about nature would be easy. Gaining an appreciation of “natural beauty” seemed like something I could write about without thought. After all, barring a natural disaster, it’s not very often we hear people talk about how ugly nature is. Nature’s beauty is sort of a given. Everyone knows that already. So why would I need to convince people to experience this beauty for themselves. A no-brainer, right?

Then why do so few people get outside and experience nature firsthand?

After some thought, it occurred to me that nature’s beauty has some major competition these days. Check out these examples of what I mean:

What breathtaking scenery! In the 21st century, computers can create the details of the natural world with amazing accuracy. Computers generate rain, animate insects, illustrate the wind, and place viewers right in the midst of it all. Why would anyone bother to go outside when nature can be experienced on a television screen from the comfort of the couch?

Here’s why:

As good as those computers are, they can’t compete with the real thing.

True natural beauty can’t be computer generated. I’ll take hopping from one sun-warmed boulder to the next along Lake Superior over watching it on TV any day. I’d rather lie in the freshly cut grass and stare up through the leaves of an ancient oak tree than pick pixelated flowers in a video game. Take me to the ballpark where I can eat popcorn and come home with a slightly sunburned nose. I’ll take the real thing over the artificial substitute every time.

Now, the million dollar question: How do we get kids to pick the beauty of nature over the electronic version? I’m still working on that…

M – Mindfulness


Photo adapted from Unsplash @ pixabay.com

  • That moment when the sun crests the horizon, making the sky blush
  • That moment when I stand beneath the Sable Dunes, with Lake Superior licking my toes
  • That moment when the ground gives away and the expanse of the Grand Canyon opens up in front of me
  • That moment when the car rounds a bend and the face of George Washington carved into stone looks down on me through the trees
  • That moment when the clouds part, revealing not just the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen, but a rainbow, too
  • That moment when I’m sitting on a giant rock jutting out into Lake Huron, watching a thunderstorm approach
  • That moment when I lie on a blanket under elderly oak trees at the park, the sun trickling down between the leaves
  • That moment when I look back over my shoulder and realize what the Black Hills look like from above
  • That moment when we reach the summit of the mountain, with the baby sound asleep in the backpack
  • That moment when I look at my family across the campfire, their faces streaked with marshmallow and chocolate

These are the moments when I can’t think of anything other than where I am, who I’m with, and who I am. These are the moments when I understand what it means to be mindful of the moment. What are your moments of mindfulness?


L – Leadership Skills


Photo adapted from klimkin @ pixabay.com

When you think of 21st century leaders, what characteristics come to mind? Organization perhaps? Maybe persistence. Quite possibly you think of dedication, ethics, or effective communications. There are many possibilities.
Whether a person is destined for leadership greatness on a political stage or wants to be better at helping others, leadership skills learned through interactions with the natural world translate well to the classroom, boardroom, and beyond. Child development expert Scott D. Krenz in the article “5 Steps to Helping Your Child Become a Leader” sums up the key leadership concepts in bold below. The connection to outside activities in this list is my addition to Krenz’s thoughts:

  • A “Leader” says “Yes, I Can!”It’s called the power of Positive Attitude. —> Anyone on a sports team knows the value of a positive attitude. My sons play soccer and will start practice for the season this week (let’s hope it stops snowing!). Neither are star players, but we reinforce that what makes them good members of the team is their attitudes, their support and empathy for other members of their team and the opposition, and their ability to listen to the coach (and execute instructions). Playing soccer teaches my kids that losing is a reality of playing the game, but that there are improvements they can make to do better the next time around. Leaders understand that a good attitude makes for a winning team—no matter the score.
  • A “Leader” says “It’s not a problem, it’s a Challenge!” It’s called Overcoming Adversity. —> As I’ve written about on this blog previously, my family does a lot of camping in the summer. One goal of mine for this season is to involve my oldest son in the trip planning more. What better opportunity is there for someone to learn about problems like budget, activities, and planning than to get involved? Further, when something goes wrong (as it inevitably does), this is an opportunity to learn how to be flexible and to seek solutions quickly. Even when things are well planned, the unexpected happens. These aren’t disasters; leaders take these opportunities and make the situation better.
  • A “Leader” says “Never give up, never give up, never give up!” It’s called Perseverance. —> Anyone who’s ever started a backyard garden understands that things don’t always go as planned. When we moved to a new house a few years ago, I got my family together one Saturday, and we rolled out fencing, tilled soil, and planted an array of tiny plants. The problem, I learned as summer wore on, was that the giant oak trees in our yard quickly filled the sky with their leaves, blocking sunlight from reaching my little plants. My garden was a spectacular disaster. I wasn’t daunted, though, and tried again the next year, being more careful to plant in areas where the sun might reach through the leaves. I’d like to say things were lots better, but my harvest wasn’t anything to brag about. This year, I’ve got a new plan—and a new location for the garden. Will I have better results? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try until I succeed. That’s perseverance, an important leadership skill.
  • A “Leader” says “I may fail or make mistakes BUT I always learn and move ahead!” It’s called Commitment. —> My parents love to take my children fishing. My children, however, aren’t so good at the patience it often takes to catch fish. They expect the fish to bite the hook as soon as it’s dropped into the water. They don’t understand why the fish sometimes don’t bite at all—or bite and aren’t hooked. My soon-to-be eight-year-old son told me recently that he’s looking forward to fishing with Grandpa and Grandma this summer. He said he’s not going to cry if a fish steals the worm from his hook or if he has to sit quietly for a long time. He’s committed to doing what it takes to catch a fish. He’s learning how to be a good leader in the process.
  • A “Leader” says “I will always do my best!” It’s called Excellence. —> When my husband was a graduate student, he hiked in the Everest region. He tells the story of climbing to the summit of a mountain (much smaller than Everest but still pretty major in terms of elevation); many in his party gave up and turned back. Back at their base camp, those people were upset they didn’t reach the summit. The reality of the situation, though, was that they did their best; they hiked as far as they could and made a decision to turn back before they endangered themselves—or someone else who would have had to rescue them. A leader does his/her best in the situation—but doesn’t do so at the expense of others.

If you can’t tell already, I’m firmly in the camp who disagrees with the popular statement “Leaders are born, not made.” It has been my experience that while not everyone is born with strong leadership skills, they can be strengthened. Experiences in nature are a great way to grow those skills. What leadership skills have you gained from spending time outdoors?


K – Keeping it Simple


Photo adapted from mother-1039765_1920 thedanw @ pixabay.com

You ever read something and just find yourself nodding, like “Yeah, I totally get what this person is saying”? I had one of those moments today. The article was titled “Keep it Simple When Introducing Kids to the Outdoors,” and it included a list of things people shouldn’t do when introducing kids to the outdoors (don’t let them play with leeches, for example). After the list, the article ends with this head-nodding gem:

Most of all, just keep it simple and fun.

Well, duh! Why didn’t I think of that? Keep it simple is a mantra for most everything, but for some reason, many of us (yup, I include myself here) overplan when it comes to outdoor activities. When you keep it simple, you’re open to interesting possibilities. You can be spontaneous.

When it comes to getting your family outdoors, keeping it simple should be your goal. If you need some inspiration, check out the ideas at the blogs No Time for Flashcards and Hands On As We Grow.

What simple activities have you used to introduce kids to the outdoors? 

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

J – Joy

jumping joy

Photo adapted from youth-570881_1920 Jill111 @ pixabay.com


Okay, pop quiz time! What do all of the children in the photos below have in common?

happy kids

Photos from pixabay.com

I suppose you could come up with any number of commonalities, but there are really just two I’m thinking about today:

  1. Outside
  2. Joy

I’ve spent the past two weeks writing about reasons for people to get outside, but it’s the joy on these kids’ faces that says much more than any of my words ever could. Being outdoors is natural for kids; they thrive there. I’ve seen it in my own family; when my kids are stuck inside during bad weather, they’re irritable and aimless. One afternoon outside, and that all changes.

I know there are always exceptions–kids who hate being outside and families who aren’t able to get outside due to geography, weather, violence, or illness. However, I can’t help but think about this quote from Stacey Loscalzos in the article “Why Playing Outdoors Makes Children Smarter“:

Outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners. Children are naturally happy when they are moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.

What brings you joy? What brings your family joy? 

I – Imagination

imagination 26 reasons to take your family outside

Adapted from kids-1015856_1920_DeannaChka 2 Pixabay.com

“Mom, I’m bored!”

Spring break was only a few hours old when I heard those words issue from my seven-year-old son’s mouth. I resisted the temptation to get annoyed or angry. Instead, my reply was simple:


There’s an old saying that goes “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In my experience, there’s a useful variation on that saying:

Boredom is the mother of IMAGINATION.

I often talk with parents who say they don’t take their kids outside because the kids get bored. Maybe I’m unusual in saying this, but I believe it’s when the kids get bored that they’re most open to imaginative possibilities. Once upon a time, children played with simple wooden blocks and were happy for hours. These days, unless the blocks walk, talk, and do backflips, kids are bored.

Kids aren’t the only guilty ones in this discussion, though. In general, our threshold for tolerating boredom has decreased substantially. We expect someone—or something—to entertain us. We stare at blinking screens all day, absorbing content. We hate to wait for anything, pulling out our phones even when we’re out for a walk or over dinner with friends. We’ve grown used to constant stimulation.

When we get outside, if we put away those electronic devices and really just be there, we aren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We get bored. I’ve talked with plenty of people who say they hate camping because there’s nothing to do but sit around. That “sitting around” is a gift—a moment away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a chance to reconnect with family, a quiet moment to reflect.

The outdoors present a great opportunity for us to be bored—and for our IMAGINATIONS to do some of the work usually accomplished by those blinking screens indoors.

How Does Being Outside Stimulate Our Imaginations?

First, the outdoors is open ended and never ending. There are no real “rules” as to how to play or what to do. Age limits don’t really exist. The choices are limitless, which gives our imaginations time to kick in and provide all sorts of possibilities.

Second, when we’re outside, all of our senses are engaged, from touch to smell. With so much sensory information, our imaginations can run wild and lead us to explore new places or try new activities.

Finally, our usual forms of indoor entertainment aren’t right in front of us so it’s up to our imaginations to help us provide our own entertainment from the world around us. Suddenly, branches become walls for a castle, feathers adorn the turrets, and shells are a road.

I encourage you to get outside for a while today and resist the temptation to give in as soon as someone says “I’m bored.” Let your imaginations run wild!

(But if you really must give in to that boredom nudge, check out the imagination-spurring outdoor family activity ideas on Pinterest.)

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

H – Humility

Adirondacks 26 reasons to take your family outside

You know that saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” Today, I want to talk about the forest… and the trees… and the flowers… and the animals… and EVERYTHING else we might encounter in the great big world.

In fact, it’s that entire GREAT BIG world I want to talk about.

Have you ever taken a moment to consider how tiny and insignificant we are in the scope of the whole world? Even our most significant personal moments are minor when considered on a global scale. I’m reminded as I write these words of my favorite painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Breughel the Elder:

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Look closely at the painting. Can you find Icarus? It’s sort of like those “Where’s Waldo” books that were around when I was a kid. If you look closely, you’ll see that poor Icarus is drowning in Brughel’s painting (we only see his legs). The worst thing has happened to him; he’s fallen out of the sky and into the water. Even so, the world continues around him: The farmer keeps plowing his field, and the ship sails on toward its destination. No one even stops to ask if he’s okay.

The great big world continues onward with or without us.

Sounds a bit depressing, doesn’t it? So where am I going with this? Why am I focused on this sad reality of our insignificance in the world?

Simply put: HUMILITY. Recognizing how insignificant and weak we are in the world allows us to ask others for help when we need it. Rather than having the attitude that we can do anything on our own, humility reminds us that we are just one element in this great big world.

Speaking of that great big world, we want our kids to grow up to be self-confident. To that end (rightly or wrongly), we award everyone trophies to help build up their belief in themselves. Self-confidence is only one pillar of a strong foundation, though. Self-confidence without humility results in hubris, the excessive pride that leads to disaster in just about every Greek tragedy (and a lot of our own personal tragedies, too, if we’re being honest). Instead, let’s try a different formula:

Self-Confidence + Humility = Balance

Humility isn’t boastful. It isn’t “in your face.” It isn’t meek or timid either, though. It’s the quiet strength that will see us through even those moments when we’re having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.

Lessons Nature Teaches About HUMILITY

  • You won’t always be the winner: You build the perfect sandcastle—only to have the tide wash it away. You organize the most beautiful campsite anyone’s ever seen—only to have a wind storm blow your decor into the lake. These things happen when you’re outdoors. They remind us that it’s not all about us.
  • Good leaders don’t need praise: There are plenty of opportunities to act as a leader in outdoor settings. You could lead a group on a hike or organize a flag football game at the park. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good you were as a leader; what matters is that everyone has a good time. Good leaders understand and accept this.
  • Service is its own reward: Picking up trash along the highway, planting a community garden, or raking the neighbor’s leaves are all tasks that take time. This is time we could be spending doing other things we enjoy. However, there is inherent reward in helping others.
  • The natural world has value: It’s easy to lose sight of the value of nature—see the trees and neglect the forest. Just take a walk around the block, though, and count the bird species you see or try to identify trees by their leaves. Each of these living things provides value—to the earth and ultimately to humans ourselves.
  • Admitting when you’re wrong is not a sign of weakness: I wrote a post recently about failure. One of the lessons we learn from outdoor adventures is that failure is a good thing. Likewise, admitting when we’re wrong or when we don’t have the answers or when we’re scared is good for us. When you’re out geocaching and get the coordinates wrong, admitting your mistake is a sign of maturity.
  • Getting out of our comfort zone is important for personal growth: The first time my now-husband took me rock climbing, I cried before I even got into the harness. Yup, embarrassing tears of fear and frustration rolled down my face. I was WAY out of my comfort zone. Sure, I would have liked to stay on my couch and read a book. When I got over myself and faced my fear, however, I found a new hobby I love.


I realize that there are countless ways to learn HUMILITY, and those lessons don’t have to come from being outdoors. However, spending time in the great big outdoor world reminds us how insignificant our own concerns are and gives us the opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

G – GOOD Food

hot dog campfire A-Z challenge

Adapted from sausage-662049_1920_Pezibear @ Pixabay.com

By now, everyone knows food cooked outside tastes better, right? Honestly, I think the food is the main reason I go camping sometimes. Yes, it takes a bit more effort to cook over the campfire, but there’s something about the relaxed pace of campfire cooking coupled with being hungry from exertion and fresh air that makes food cooked over a fire taste amazing.

Interestingly, the *taste* of the food isn’t the only good thing about cooking outside. According to an H.E. Remus on Medium, “When you cook for yourself, you consume 50% less calories.” That makes sense since when you’re camping, you’re probably meal planning more carefully and are conscious of portion control since storage of food is an issue. Further, you’re less likely to just randomly grab a snack from the pantry, and if you do stock your camping pantry with junk food (s’mores, anyone?), you’re more likely to have exercised setting up camp to burn more calories than you would sitting in front of the TV. As an added bonus, if you’re participating in activities like fishing or foraging (yes, people do that!), you’re probably eating the freshest protein around sans preservatives of any kind.

Finally, if you’re camping, you just have to try one of the incredibly creative recipes you can find in the array of camping recipe books or on Pinterest. In case you need some incentive, here’s my Pinterest camping recipe list:

How is it that the lowly hot dog can taste so GOOD when cooked outside over an open fire? What are your favorite recipes for cooking outdoors? I’m always looking for new things to try on this summer’s adventures!

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside