By Laura Turner Seydel

Everyone knows I’m passionate about the environment. One of the main reasons for that is that I spent a great deal of time in my childhood outside.

Being outdoors, actually seeing how each and every part of our natural systems work, is so vital to understanding and appreciating Mother Nature. And those times outside with my family are some of the best memories I have now.

There’s another, more immediate reason to get your kids outdoors, too. Increasingly, studies are showing that being outside in nature is essential to the healthy development of children, most of whom spend a majority of their days in front of different types of electronics.

Child advocacy expert Richard Louv has an excellent book on the subject, “Last Child in the Woods.” He calls this deprivation from the outside nature-deficit disorder, and his book outlines the importance of connecting your kids to the natural world that surrounds them. More information on his book and the disorder can be found at richardlouv.com.

We’re lucky to live in an area of the country with so many great outdoor family activities nearby. Nearby, some of my favorite places to hike and take in the view of the birds, animals and plants are the hiking trails at Kennesaw Mountain and Stone Mountain parks. The trails are winding, and the parks hold family-friendly activities all season long.

Just a few hours away are the well-equipped campgrounds and scenic waterfalls of Amicalola Falls State Park. Families can hike a piece of the Appalachian Trail, go horseback riding and whitewater rafting, and camp for the night at a campground that’s out in nature but equipped with bathrooms, showers, and fresh water.

If beaches are more your speed, Cumberland Island National Seashore is a beautiful destination off the coast of Georgia. Its undeveloped beaches are a great opportunity for the kids to see birds and wildlife in a natural setting. It’s even far enough away from city lights for a great view of the stars!

If a trip a little farther from home is what you have in mind, check out Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. It’s the world’s longest known cave system, which gives kids lots to explore. The park rangers even hold kids-only tours, which means some peaceful hiking time for parents, so you can get out and appreciate nature, too!

Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina is closer than you think at only three hours from the Atlanta metro area. The park has bird watching, rock climbing, and they even invite you to bring the dogs – it’s a pet-friendly park.

Another nearby outdoor destination is Little River Canyon National Preserve in Fort Payne, Ala. The park has waterfalls, canyon rims, sandstone cliffs and boulders, which means there’s lots to see and do, like hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing.

A fun game to play, when you visit national parks, is to see if you can fill out a checklist of all the animals and plants you see. The National Park Service keeps a record of the animals that live in each park and provides a list on each park’s website. Start at nps.gov and find the park you’re going to for your park-specific list.

I love looking through the photographs from our outdoor trips as a kid, and from the adventures I’ve had with my own children out in nature. Go on, make memories. Mother Nature has so much to offer!

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.