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Let’s be honest. A lot of us don’t know where to start when it comes to introducing our kids to the outdoors. It’s not like the days when we grew up where mom would say “just be back before dark”, and we’d be off in the neighborhood woods, doing whatever we wanted. Building forts, bicycle ramps, and playing army men; we were outdoorsmen and women from the beginning.
With the advancement of technology, and don’t get me wrong it’s fantastic, our kids have a lot more choices than spending their time outside. If you gave me a choice when I was 8 years old of either playing in the dirt or Grand Theft Auto on PS4, I think we all know which one I would pick. It’s not their fault. Technology is awesome.
That’s where we come in parents. It’s up to us to instill joy and passion for the outdoors in our children. It’s not just something we should do, it’s something we must do. We have a responsibility to teach the next generation the benefits of the outdoors and how to protect it.
So how do you start?
I read a great article form REI recently (here) that got me thinking on the topic. Below I give my thoughts as how you can get started easily, and without having your kid go crying back to the X-Box when they get a little dirty.
Start at Home:
There’s nothing more fun than enjoying the outdoors from the comfort of your back yard. Find a good spot, pitch a tent, and settle in for the night. This lets you and your kiddo enjoy camping, all while having the assurance that anything you need is right inside. Also, camping is pretty fun when you can order pizza.
Go for a Day-Hike:
This is the logical next step to introduce your youngster to being outside. You can plan for a 3-4 hour hike around a local park, or if you’re comfortable with it, get off the beaten path a little bit. There are a couple of advantages to this approach.
One, it lets you take stock of items that you may need for an overnighter down the road. Did you forget sunblock? Did you bring enough water? What about a first-aid kit? I’m sure you’ve got your compass and map too right?
And two, it lets you gradually build up to being outdoors for longer. Try staying out a little bit longer each day-hike. Try to go on a few day-hikes before you start to consider going overnight.
Plan Your First Overnighter:
Now you’ve graduated to the big leagues. Time to take your kid to Everest right? Calm down kemosabe, we’re not talking about a week-long stint here. A nice easy overnighter is the way to go. A couple of things to make this experience as enjoyable as possible:
One, include your kid in all of the planning and on-site activities. Have them help with conducting checklists. Do we have everything we need? Conducting a proper layout of all your equipment is useful to make sure you’re not forgetting your tent. Also, everybody loves to feel needed, especially children. Make them responsible for certain parts of your camping trip.
Two, check the weather. There is nothing worse than being out when it starts to pour down rain, or worse snow. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Three, life lessons. Being outdoors with the ones you love is a great opportunity for one-on-one talk. But, like a lot of life lessons, some are best when there are no words at all. So leave the laptop at home, don’t take any work calls, and just be present. It’s amazing how much just your time and interest can mean to your child.
So there you have it! You’re now an expert on the fundamentals. All the other stuff is just details. Equipment, high-tech gear, and all that jazz can wait. Just spend some time outdoors with your children, and I promise you will both be better for it.