It’s no secret that the great outdoors has a myriad of benefits for children of all ages. Generation Z (4- to 24-year-olds) spends less time outside than older generations for a number of reasons: many more hours per week of digital engagement, perceived safety issues of playing outside, an ever-increasing pressure on academic and athletic achievements—all of this and more has diminished the number of hours spent playing outside, whether it’s hiking on nearby trails or playing hide and seek with neighborhood pals. This has alarmed so many experts that journalist Richard Louv’s 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” coined the term “nature-deficit disorder.”
But getting your kids outside is easier—and more fun—than many think. Family RV vacations to national parks are a phenomenal way to expose children and teenagers to nature in a fun, relaxed, and accessible way.
Benefit 1: Increased Cognitive (Thinking) and Executive (Self-Regulation) Function
Children need to take reasonable risks for normal brain development, and these kinds of challenges can be found everywhere in the outdoors. Using a map to navigate while hiking in Canyonlands National Park can help adolescents problem-solve and come up with creative solutions. Whitewater rafting on the Snake River in Wyoming teaches teenagers about working together in teams and communicating clearly. Having a few scheduled activities where you have to be somewhere at a certain time helps children learn time management.
Bonus: Temporarily living in an RV helps kids practice their personal organization, as everyone shares limited space.
Benefit 2: Increased Confidence
Family RV trips are full of opportunities for children to try new activities and meet new people. Many Tracks & Trails families from big cities, for example, have never kayaked on a big lake or gone horseback riding in Bryce Canyon National Park. If children aren’t presented with reasonable risks, they’ll never have the chance to see what they’re capable of accomplishing. Children who are allowed to learn by trial and error (and who are even allowed to fail) tend to grow up with a growth mindset (working hard to accomplish things and seeing failure as an opportunity to grow and learn) rather than a fixed mindset (believing that abilities are “static” characteristics which can’t be changed and that success relies on inherent talent or intelligence).
Benefit 3: Improved Physical Fitness
Wide, open spaces are ideal for allowing children the freedom to run, jump, toss a ball, throw a frisbee, or play tag. By spending time outside, children improve their motor function, burn more calories, and increase their aerobic capacity, helping prevent obesity later in life.
There are endless ways for kids of all athletic abilities to explore the outdoors in national parks, from splashing around in swimming holes in Zion National Park’s Virgin River to hiking in Banff National Park to exploring cave systems in Colorado.
Benefit 4: Better Appreciation of Nature
Taking children on an RV vacation to national parks will help them learn to appreciate their natural surroundings. This is a great opportunity to point out the fauna and flora of the areas you visit, while walking in the ancient trees of Sequoia National Park, to marvel at the geological features features formed by rivers on a raft trip near Moab, or to show kids that it’s okay to get a little dirty while canyoneering in Zion National Park. With appreciation comes learning to care for wild spaces to keep them around for generations to come.
Benefit 5: Reduced Stress and Fatigue
Adults aren’t the only ones who experience stress in their daily lives. In fact, this study reported teenagers feeling just as much stress as adults. Attention Restoration Theory was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s and posits that more exposure to natural spaces helps improve our focus and concentration. Essentially, in nature our brains can practice what’s known as “soft fascination”; when we hear birds chirping or a brook babbling, we effortlessly pay attention and feel content. This restorative property allows children to perform better when under pressure at school or in athletics.
We at Tracks & Trails are huge proponents of getting more kids (and their parents!) outside to enjoy the great outdoors. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 800-247-0970 with any questions about our RV trips!