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Happy and healthy kids: Let nature work its magic with an outdoor holiday

Can nature find the wild child in us?

 

Children love running wild in the great outdoors, so why has the number of children engaging with nature fallen so drastically in a generation?

 

As a child, I remember spending much of my free time on the recreation ground at the back of our house or making dens with my sister (without adult supervision), and we only ever went home when it was time for dinner.

 

So, what’s changed? In March 2016, the Guardian newspaper reported that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates and in an average day, a fifth don’t play outside at all. This generation of children are indeed prisoners in their own homes – but who (or what) is to blame?

 

Technology is perhaps one of the biggest culprits, with a screen-based lifestyle being the norm in our modern society. Peer pressure dictates what latest gadget our children have, and let’s face it, gaming or social media can be addictive.

 

Nowadays, we literally have the news at our fingertips – with most of us accessing the latest headlines on our smartphones.

 

All this instant knowledge isn’t always a good thing as it can fuel our fears when it comes to our children’s safety. Of course, we want to protect them from harm but it comes at a cost.

A report conducted by the National Trust points out that our ‘zero-risk’ attitude to life is seriously limiting our children’s freedom.

We have stopped giving our kids the independence to enjoy the natural world as we once did, despite compelling evidence that children are far more likely to be injured at home.

A whole generation of kids are missing out on something that is vital for their physical and mental wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be about leaving them to play outside alone – it can be a family affair too.

 

 

Nature’s answer to good physical health

This trend towards inactivity is having a profound effect on the health of our kids. Child obesity is becoming the biggest health challenge of our time.

The Health Survey for England (HSE) show that 28.2% of children aged 2 to 15 were classed as overweight or obese in 2015. Of course, this isn’t solely down to lack of exercise, our fondness for junk food has been playing havoc with our waistlines for years.

Another unfortunate aspect about living in the UK is that we don’t always have as much sunshine as we’d like. In recent years, cases of rickets, asthma and even short-sightedness, caused by the lack of vitamin D, have increased drastically.

This makes it even more important to head off outdoors and spend as much time as possible discovering what mother nature has to offer.

It’s our job as parents to teach our kids and make them into happy, healthy and well-rounded adults. There’s strong evidence that children of active parents will become active adults themselves.

So, it’s essential for us to allow our kids to reap the benefits of outdoor play and give them the chance to really fire up their imaginations. What child can honestly say it’s not fun to cycle through the woods or go to the park?

 

 

Nature on prescription

The lack of nature-based play and the shift towards a screen-based lifestyle also impacts on our children’s mental health. The internet and the ease in which social media can eat away at our self-confidence is alarming.

We are bombarded with ‘perfect’ body images and reported cases of cyber bullying has rocketed. Add in the lack of outdoor play to the equation and we have quite a problem.

Research has shown that there has been a significant increase in mental health problems since the 1970s. There is strong evidence that nature reduces stress and helps ease depression and anxiety disorders – so a trip to the park may just be the medicine our children need.

In a National Trust survey, it was found that 80% of the happiest people in the UK said that they had a strong connection with the natural world, compared with less than 40% of the unhappiest.

Another great discovery is that nature has been found to improve ADHD symptoms in children. One study revealed that increased exposure to nature improved symptoms of ADHD significantly, compared to those who stayed indoors or played in urban settings.

 

Make nature part of family time

Children are naturally inquisitive and love nothing better than getting dirty in the great outdoors. Whether it’s searching for mini beasts or climbing trees, we can be certain that our kids will come home happy and eager to talk about their latest discoveries.

The National Trust are so keen to get the whole family outside that they have published their 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ . It’s a fantastic list of outdoor adventures ranging from something as simple as playing pooh sticks to something more adventurous like camping out in the wild.

 

It may be slightly trickier to get teenagers away from their phones but with a bit of effort, you might just find some outdoor activities that even the most hardened internet addict might enjoy! Why not combine technology with nature?

Geocaching is like a worldwide treasure hunt where a GPS signal is used to search for caches. It’s something that the whole family can enjoy, either locally or while on holiday.

We can’t finish without talking holidays! Why not take the family camping?

It can be as basic or glamorous as you want, but what’s important is that you are engaging with nature. Not only is it a good way to bring families together, it’s also good for our health!

Thanks to our trees, the air in the countryside is far less polluted. We are also able to reset our circadian rhythm (our natural body clock) as we instinctively feel sleepy when the sun goes down and wake up at sunrise. No alarm clocks needed here!

If camping isn’t your thing, there are endless possibilities to have a more active family holiday. From cycling or trekking in the mountains, horse riding to sailing. Embrace what the great outdoors has to offer and make some happy memories.

 

Explore Germany’s great outdoors with your family

Germany is the perfect location for an active family holiday. Discover this wonderfully diverse country – with its stunning lakes and mountains, beaches and National Parks.

Why not make it fun for the kids and cycle your way around? If you’re after a more chilled out day, you can always take the kids to one of the outdoor swimming pools. They will absolutely love it!

Outdoor swimming pool in Hiltrup close to Munster (c): Presseamt Munster, Angelika Klauser

Travelling by car is the best way to really experience this beautiful country. Here are just some ideas to whet your appetite.

Get closer to nature in Germany

The federal states of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg in the south of Germany are popular holiday destinations – and for good reason.

The Black Forest is home to some of the most stunning nature in the whole of Germany. With its heavily forested mountain range and beautiful valleys, it makes exploring this region a delight. The historic towns of Stuttgart, Baden-Baden, Freiburg and Donaueschingen are all perfect locations to take the children. Situated close to France, it’s easy to take a trip across the border to Strasbourg and discover the Alsace region.

If you love the idea of seeing this beautiful landscape on foot, you’ll find some fantastic family-friendly nature trails such as the Lotharpfad and the Wildnispfad in the north of the Black Forest, and the ‘goat’ trail in Forbach-Bermersbach, which passes through picturesque meadows while giving the kids a chance to make friends with the goats!

The Schlühüwana nature park consists of an unusual 2km circular route, which is lined with carved, wooden figures. Children are encouraged to really get back to nature and experience the different types of soil along the barefoot trail. Lake Schluchsee is also close by and is the ideal spot to enjoy a picnic and a swim in the lake.

 

Picnic after hiking at Rötenbach Gorge in the Black Forest
Picnic after hiking at Rötenbach Gorge in the Black Forest
Copyright: Hochschwarzwaldtourismus GmbH
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Discover Germany’s Lake District

Take advantage of the many family-friendly cycling routes in the area or discover some of the wonderful rivers and lakes by boat.

Lake Constance isn’t far away and is the third largest lake in Europe – just perfect for cycling around. You can’t go to Lake Constance without taking a trip across to the ‘flower island’ of Mainau. This picturesque island is designed like a garden and is easily accessible by boat.

The best way to truly experience the Black Forest’s stunning scenery is to drive along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße.  This panoramic route takes you from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt and passes through some really impressive scenery. Why not stop off in one of the beautiful, historic towns along the route and sample some local cuisine in the delightful little restaurants or cafés?

Bavaria is well-known for its stunning lakes and rivers. It’s worth taking the time to discover Starnberg’s ‘five lake’ region. The area is perfect for water sports’ enthusiasts – especially in summer when the temperatures can easily reach between 25°C and 30°C.

St. Bartholomew church at Lake Königssee in Bavaria
St. Bartholomew church at Lake Königssee in Bavaria
Copyright: Pixabay
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The Berchtesgaden National Park lies close to the Austrian border in the stunning mountainous area, situated just south of the town. At the centre of the park, you’ll find the spectacular Lake Königssee. Taking a boat trip will give you the opportunity to fully enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful lake. The Echostüberl restaurant is located close by and provides the perfect setting to enjoy some fresh fish or sample the typical Bavarian cuisine.

The Altmühl Valley is the second largest nature park in Germany. Situated close to the Danube Gorge, the area is perfect for those who enjoy walking or cycling. There are cycle routes that run adjacent to the River Altmühl as far as the River Danube. If you prefer to experience this spectacular scenery by boat, why not take one of the many river cruises through the Danube Gorge?

 

Castles, wine, history and water – family fun is guaranteed

Another fascinating and sometimes underrated area is the Moselle and Rhine Valley, in the Rhineland-Palatinate region. Popular for its world-famous white wine, the area also offers plenty of outdoor activities for the children.

Dotted along the River Moselle and the River Rhine, you’ll find some impressive castles and fortresses to visit. Eltz Castle is surrounded by the picturesque Eltz Forest – perfect for combining an exhilarating walk in the forest with a bit of history.

Rheinfels Castle is located in St Goar, close to the River Rhine. If you’re looking for somewhere great to stay, why not try out the Romantik Hotel Schloss Rheinfels? It has a fabulous view across the river and valley. River cruises are also available from several places along the river.

Rhine cycling path in Breyll in the Rhineland-Palatinate
Rhine cycling path in Breyll in the Rhineland-Palatinate
Copyright: Romantischer Rhein Tourismus
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Running parallel to the River Rhine, you’ll find the famous Rheinradweg cycle track, which is part of the EuroVelo15 route. It’s suitable for any level of fitness and great for families.  Bikes can be hired from several places en route and there are plenty of companies that will look after your luggage if you decide to do a long-distance cycle ride.

 

The area also boasts several well sign-posted walking routes like the Rheinsteig, which leads you through beautiful vineyards, forests and meadows. It’s always advisable to throw your swimsuit into your rucksack as there are plenty of opportunities to visit an outdoor swimming pool or take a dip in one of the rivers or lakes.

Germany has so much to offer when it comes to outdoor family holidays. Get back to nature with the kids and show them how to have fun without a smartphone or tablet in sight! With a bit of luck, they’ll want to continue this outdoor journey when they get home. Not only will they be happier, they’ll be healthier too.

 

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