As a kid, my mom moved my siblings and me from place to place often, but luckily, she had the forethought to transplant us to fairly suburban areas. Most places I lived as a child had a yard, or some sort of trail system nearby and/or fairly empty streets where my friends and I could set up street games, play or ride bikes. Suffice it to say, I spent the vast majority of my childhood running around outside, just like a wild kid should. Nowadays childhood is different. Due to increasing housing costs and urban sprawl, most of my friends with kids live in apartments OR very urban areas with minimal green space. My friends who do have homes with yards have tiny yard spaces due to how housing developments are becoming insanely crowded. Safe streets to run about on are a thing of the past. There's nothing enticing about running around a crowded, traffic-heavy street for kids OR parents. Add to this the fact that many nervous parents are keeping kids inside under lock and key, and you've got a big old problem. Kids living in urban areas and apartments face some significant downsides. For example...
- Zero chances to run free outside - something every kid deserves.
- A lack of physical activity which puts kids' physical and mental health at a major disadvantage.
- Kids who never get outside, into nature may cease to care about said nature. It's a known fact that kids who are introduced to nature and who spend a lot of time in it, are far more likely to grow up to be good conservationists than their trapped-inside peers.
Use Walk Score to your advantage
Of all the tools urban dwellers have at their disposal, Walk Score is hands down one of the very best. Walk Score’s mission is to promote walkable neighborhoods for all families and individuals, making their service utterly useful if you’re looking for a new place to live. Walk Score allows you to enter any address in over 10,000 neighborhoods in almost 3,000 cities across the United States, Canada, and Australia and it’ll shoot you back a walk score for that dwelling. You can also get scores for entire cities, look up apartment listings and find out how transit-friendly an area is, for example, how many bus lines or bike trails are nearby. Basically, if you’re not sure how much green space is in an area, how easy it is to walk places, or what parks might be nearby, Walk Score can totally help you map out the best places in your area to live. If you’re looking to make a big move, you may also want to check out the 25 best cities for kids to play outside.
Get outside every weekend (and on weekdays!)
Many city kids live near parks, hiking trails, school yards or other green spaces. Make a concentrated effort to get to those places on the weekends or even after dinner a few weekdays a week. Even getting outside in an urban area can be healthier for kids than being stuck inside all the time. You and your kids can still identify trees, plants and some city creatures, all while getting a breath of fresh air. Many cities put out guides about the best places for kids, so check with your local visitors center to get the scoop. You can also use the following links to your advantage.
- Find a local park via the National Park Service
- Use Map of Play to find cool outdoor spaces in your area
- Fun outdoor games for kids in the city
- Find places to bike at MapMy Ride
- AllTrails allows you to search over 50,000 trails with reviews and photos curated by 3 million hikers, campers and mountain bikers
Make the most of vacations
As an urban family, don’t visit other urban places on vacation. Hit the beach, hit the mountain, hit the woods and any other place that’s nature packed. You don’t need to stay inside when you’re on vacation. A memorable camping trip, hike or other outdoor adventure will be remembered and treasured by your kid for years to come. See the following links for ideas.
- How to have an eco-friendly family camping trip
- 13 idyllic, organic family farm stay vacations around the world
- 6 awesome alpine slides in America for thrill-seeking families to visit this summer
Choose the right schools, camps and other activities
For apartment and city bound kids, the right school, camp or activity setting can make all the difference. If you have a choice, find a school that offers plenty of free play time, preferably in an outdoor setting, and focus, at least some of the time, on nature-minded education. Same for after school programs. Summer camp is an awesome and fun way to bring nature to city kids for a big chunk of the year. Both day camps and sleepover camps are available all over the country and can really impact your child, especially if he’s stuck inside often during the school year. Even city camps are a good bet as they tend to do the work of searching out those green spaces nearby such as fountains, parks and bike trails. Lastly, you can easily get your child involved in groups, like the Girl Scouts, that focus on healthy activities outdoors.
- 5 green summer camps & how to find an eco-minded summer camp near you
- 6 community service summer camps that enable youth to change the world
- How to afford summer camp
- How the Girl Scouts build girls who love nature
- 15 all inclusive alternatives to the Boy Scouts
Bring nature inside
While not as useful as actually getting outside, you can bring some nature to your apartment bound child in the form of indoor projects, objects and other activities. NOTE: Always make an effort to get outside into nature, but when you can’t the following ideas may help.
- No community garden nearby? You can easily grow plants, flowers and even veggies on a patio and many of these items can even be grown inside if you have a sunny windowsill.
- Watch movies that showcase nature.
- Choose eco-friendly, nature-minded books as reading material.
- When you do get outside, collect nature objects to use in crafts.
- Create a nature-minded sensory table for your child.
- Purchase toys that focus on nature, nature themes and outdoor fun.
Image via Shutterstock
Urban and apartment bound kids need to go outside on their own. As a parent I know you’re worried about your kids being outside alone. I get it. No one wants their kid to be that one kid who is harmed or kidnapped or hurt while playing. However, there’s a limit to my patience when I see kids stuck inside for their entire childhood. Even if you live in an urban area, the world is ultimately safer than it used to be when us kids of the 70s and 80s used to play outside alone for hours on end. This isn’t some blanket statement to get you to let your kids run free – it’s an actual fact. Research also shows that kids who are allowed to be on their own in the world, at least some of the time, gain street smart skills that will benefit them for a lifetime, whereas kids stuck inside don’t get that chance.