Author Steven Rinella’s tips for raising ‘kids outdoors in an indoor world’ – WBUR News | Directory Mayhem

phones. TV. computers.

The average American spends 90% of their time indoors. Internal distractions have become an everyday part of children’s lives.

But how can we help children see the forest behind the screens?

“I want my children to know that they are on an equal footing with nature. They’re not very far from it,” says author Steven Rinella. “You are part of it. Your actions affect it. And they need to have a relationship where it’s an interactive, hands-on, and very responsible relationship.”

Today, To the point: Education of outdoor children in an inner world. From the biggest cities to the wildest corners of the country, how to get your kids radically excited about the great outdoors.


Steven Rinella, host of the Netflix series MeatEater and The MeatEater Podcast. Author of several books on wildlife, hunting, fishing and wild cooking. His latest book is Outdoor Kids in an Inside World. (@stevenrinella)

Also featured

Mariana Brusoni, Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership and Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. (@mbrussoni)

Heather Butt, co-founder and CEO of HEALTH for Youths. Assistant Professor at Long Island University. Lecturer at Columbia University School of Public Health and St. John’s University School of Law.

Interview Highlights

About raising children in an urban environment

“Although I now live in Montana and grew up in a very rural, natural environment, my first two children will be born in Brooklyn, New York. A third child was born in Seattle. So, you know, I’ve had a lot of very perfect, pristine wilderness moments throughout my life. But having young children, I knew they wouldn’t all do it. You wouldn’t be like that.

“I was very frustrated raising children in an urban environment. And I felt frustration and guilt that I couldn’t offer them those amazing moments that would be a once-in-a-lifetime journey for people that I’ve been able to do a lot of, and so I had to learn to find joy and satisfaction in what I saw at the time as a kind of compromise version of nature, namely urban nature.

“So if I wanted to…easier-to-achieve moments. It would just be the time we spent, even in Brooklyn and many other places, at her grandparents’ houses, the time we spent knocking over rocks, rolling over rotting logs and watching what became of the scurries away. And they keep worms and various larvae and do what I thought was the first step… freeing them from the idea that there’s no gross or disgusting anywhere. These words do not belong in our vocabulary. And we spend a lot of time on it. And it was very rewarding. It made me look and find out what things are.”

On tips to get the whole family out of the house

“Years ago I wrote an article for Outside magazine. They said they gave us some title, like [Little Things That Kill You]. But I have, so to speak, reviewed a life full of adventures. And what are the things that got me hospitalized related to the wilderness?

“And it turns out they’re all microscopic. It’s waterborne pathogens, insect borne pathogens, Lyme disease, which my son and I both had. Overcoming the fear perspective is very important, it’s like getting statistical and familiarizing yourself with what is actually needed and then making sure you take care of it, like trying to enter a rational space , where you look and behave, the main risk here is that the kids get a tick and they get Lyme disease.

“And educate yourself about it to the point where you say we’re being rational without getting too over the top. We’re being rational here. We use repellants. We do tick checks, we put pant legs back in socks. Right? We’ve reduced the risk, mitigated it. So the next step is to get comfortable.

“It’s in terms of risk. Another thing that I think is very important and that a lot of parents miss is to just get into an attitude where you don’t take no for an answer. When it comes to time outdoors, when it comes to camping and hiking, my wife and I don’t ask our kids to go. We go. We go that day.

“We’re giving them a couple of days, heads up, so they can plan it. And we don’t ask them for their opinion. We don’t ask their opinion on how far we will go if they hear us say it, and we give them the time and we make plans to care for their well-being, that’s what we do. Especially with young children when you say, oh, there’s naps and snacks and I don’t want to bring the diaper bag.

“And the five-year-old doesn’t need a nap, but the two-year-old needs a nap. And when all is said and done, we just won’t go. Happens. And I see it happen to people and then this inaction just stretches out for years and then you start to develop a habit where you’re not a family that’s just going to go away.

“I think you’re considering that you’re not going to take no. It doesn’t matter what the weather is, it doesn’t matter what ever. You go. And I think it takes your kids… where they become people to act. You are not wishy-washy. They become concise and specific about what they’re going to get done, no matter what comes their way.”

What are the top things that children can uniquely benefit from when engaging with nature?

“I had a debate, a friendly debate, with my publisher. Where we talked about… the cover for the book or whatever. And I used a word, like, to make your kids tough. And that means different things to different people. And someone who grew up like, “Are people getting by with that word? Is it still a thing? I’m like, I’m very comfortable with that word. When I say tough, I don’t mean the playground bully Wenn.” I say tough, I mean some resilience to discomfort, right?

“An ability to be outside and realize that outside… you have wild temperature swings. You find times when you feel hot. You find times when you feel cold. You find times when you spend hours and hours with your socks and shoes soaked. A toughness, like a steadfastness. In addition, I think there are benefits to self-sufficiency. Easy to learn how to do things with your hands, isn’t it? How to make things, whether you’re building forts or growing a garden, that you can physically do things with your hands.

“When I think about the ecological challenges we face in the future… I feel and I know that because I studied conservation history in the United States. I only studied as a citizen, not as an academic. You will find that our great conservation heroes tend to be people who have radically engaged with nature. This commitment…creates in people a sense of obligation to the planet and the nature that surrounds them. If I want my kids to be conservationists, then I will. I don’t know that they’ll become conservation heroes, but we can all dream, right? That’s because they learn to love [the] Thing.

“And out of that love came a sense of obligation where they are willing to sacrifice for her. That’s the long-term game, right? And I may not meet all of those things, but if I do, I am hoping to meet some. And if I could meet one, that would be it. Yes, that they have a duty to honor and respect and to care for the natural world around them.

How families can engage radically with nature

“I’m going to get very specific and tell you one that we found that I’ve found very effective on my own children. Do we keep a list of all the birds, either seen or heard, from our habitat, right? So you must see or hear it from our yard. And our list has grown to an impressive length. And to help you with that, I’d like to point out that there’s a new app called Merlin, which comes from the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.

“And it’s wonderful. And you can turn it on. And it listens to the bird calls in your area and starts listing what birds you might have nearby. And then you have to try to find and match them. But our kids are so excited to open up. We have a Google Drive folder and we open it and add a bird. And if we can add a bird, they see that as a great achievement and it’s a lot of fun.”

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