A few weeks ago I accompanied my daughter’s third grade class on a field trip to a nature center. The nature center staff had several activities scheduled, some of them outdoors. Given it was a scorching June day with highs in the upper 90′s, I braced myself for an afternoon with uncomfortable and unhappy children.
The next few hours consisted of:
- A presentation of snakes, turtles and frogs. The children were allowed to touch the animals if they wished to. To my surprise, my daughter touched every one. This the same girl that comes screaming for help when she finds an occasional spider in the toy room.
- A water activity meant to demonstrate the loss of energy as you move up the food chain in which the students transferred water from one to another using cups with a small hole in the bottom. At some point the activity degenerated into letting the kids throw water at each other. It was the perfect combination of education and water fight.
- An animal survival hike in which students picked an animal, and had to navigate a course making decisions to help an animal survive during the winter.
As the kids boarded the bus, the class was buzzing with talk of how much fun was had during the field trip. It also then occurred to me that I could count on one hand how many complaints I had heard about the heat.
Thirty 9 year olds walking around in close to 100 degree heat for hours, and there was virtually zero complaining about the heat.
Amazing, but why?
I pondered this question on my drive back to work. I thought about how the staff had occasionally ran by the students misting them water bottles while uttering a barrage of witty remarks. Surely that helped keep them cool, but more importantly, they were telling them it was OK to be outside. They didn’t reinforce the notion that many kids (and adults) have that when it’s hot outside, you MUST go sit inside an air-conditioned house.
Even when it’s hot outside, with the proper precautions, you can enjoy the outdoors.
I’m not advocating that we have our kids run marathons when the mercury rises above 90, but we shouldn’t be forcing kids to be couch potatoes in that situation either.
I was also surprised that the kids admitted to having so much fun. Honestly, if you were to ask a kid what they’d like to do for their birthday, you’re probably not going to hear them exclaim, “I want to go to the nature center for free!” You’ll get suggestions of going to an amusement park, the pool, a bounce house, or various other cool and exciting destinations. But most likely, not a nature center.
Why is that?
As I think back to many of the special occasions that my wife and I have planned for our kids, they commonly involve:
- buying a ticket to an event
- driving a long distance
- eating at a restaurant
- or sometimes all of the above
It feels like we’re teaching our kids to associate having fun with spending money.
I’m not saying we should never take our kids to play laser tag if that’s what they’re into. But we should be mixing it up with the free, educational, and fun activities such as those we participated in at the nature center.
Not only is it easier on the wallet, but it teaches our kids that you don’t always have to spend money to have fun. We might just learn something about the world around us to boot.
My daughter and I both had a great time at the nature center. It obviously had an effect on her, as she continues to ask if we can go back to do the animal survival hike again choosing a different animal.
I can’t wait to go back, and neither can she.