Nature safety tips

Don’t let safety be a reason to not get out and explore nature with children.

Photo by Scott Maesel.

Photo by Scott Maesel.

Before heading outdoors, remember that safety is a priority. Nothing ruins a well-planned nature walk or outside activity like a case of poison ivy, scraped knees or dehydration. Many adults think that being outside in nature is too risky and that a child might get hurt. However, children need to be given an opportunity to learn their limitations. They cannot learn what that is if they are shielded from all risk.

Children who spend most of their time indoors are more likely to get injured when they play outdoors because they have not learned the proper way to fall. Taking risks requires a lot of practice and is necessary to be able to cope successfully in life. In the future, they will not have trusted adults to help them decide what a risk is as they become more independent and influenced by peers. We want their internal voice to speak loud and clear about what they should and should not do based on their prior knowledge of risk taking as a young child.

Nature, and being outside, is a great avenue for children to take risks. Healthy risk taking prepares us all to be observant and make good decisions.

Remember these safety tips when exploring nature and talking healthy risks:

  • Dress appropriately, including closed-toe shoes and long pants.
  • Check out the area prior to the walk. Are bathrooms or water fountains nearby? If not, be prepared for that. Are there any hazards such as wide streams or steep hills that might pose a problem? Is the nature hike too long?
  • Encourage children to look with their eyes instead of disturbing nature.
  • Talk about what to do if you see a snake, spider or other animal that might be scary or a danger.
  • Remember sun screen and bug spray. Due to possible allergic reactions, both should require written parent approval if applying to a child in a child care center or someone else’s child.
  • Be mindful of bee stings. Young children may have serious allergic reactions to stings from a yellow jacket or wasp, which is the most common pesky stinger in Michigan. They are attracted to food, cosmetics and perfumes.
  • Know what poison ivy looks like. Take a reference picture with you so you can easily identify it in the wild.
  • Watch out for excessive heat. Compared to adults, young children have a difficult time regulating their body heat and can overheat quickly and at lower temperatures then adults. Remember frequent breaks in the shade and fluids to drink.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to Michigan State University Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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