Dr. Dana Johnson: Get Kids Engaged With the Outdoors

There are several wonderful state parks that are just a short drive from Madison, and some activities you can enjoy at these parks are hiking, fishing, biking, picnicking and canoeing.

Originally published on May 14, 2014, in the Wisconsin State Journal. Dr. Johnson is a pediatrician practicing at the Meriter McKee clinic.

Dear Dr. Johnson: What is the best way to get children active outdoors?

Dear Reader: For most young children, the best way to get them to be active outside is to simply take them there. Some older children may take a bit of coaxing but will often enjoy themselves once there.

I feel that many children (and adults) are nature deprived. So many of our daily activities are done inside and our lives can become so busy that getting outdoors and just playing is not always a high priority. Fresh air and exploring the world around us can be so beneficial to children and adults alike. We also tend to be more physically active when outdoors than indoors.

The National Park Trust has designated May 17, 2014 as “Kids to Parks Day.” “The goal is to engage kids across the country with parks and public lands to promote environmental stewardship and healthy outdoor living.” Thousands of families have already pledged to go to a park on May 17. More information about this event can be found at www.kidstoparks.org

If you haven’t already explored them, there are several wonderful state parks that are just a short drive from Madison. Some that my family has explored are Devil’s Lake, Blue Mound and Kettle Moraine. Some activities we have enjoyed at these parks are hiking, fishing, biking, picnicking and canoeing. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers the Wisconsin Explorer program where children can complete a booklet while at state parks, forests, trails and recreation areas and earn a patch. Just stop at the ranger station for more information or go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/getoutdoors/we.html. A list of park locations, activities and other information about Wisconsin State Parks can be found at www.wiparks.net.

If you have a bit more time for a drive, the national parks are a great destination. They also offer activities for children to earn patches or badges through the Junior Ranger program. My son has enjoyed filling his National Park passport book with stamps from the various national parks we have visited.

If driving to a state or national park isn’t a possibility for this weekend, don’t forget that in Madison we are fortunate to have many great area parks and lakes. Some offer nature trails. Small children love playing on playground equipment. Older children might enjoy shooting some hoops with a basketball or playing catch.

Don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray. Also wear appropriate shoes for walking and bring water to keep hydrated. But most importantly, get out and enjoy the great outdoors!

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