5 Tips For Getting Kids Outdoors
There’s a next-level bond with my kids when we hang out outdoors, but it hasn’t always been a joyride. As every parent likely knows, raising kids is a constant evolution, an ebb, and flow. One day you wonder how you will ever leave the house in one piece, and the next day you’re a well-oiled machine trekking through life on an endless adventure. But how do you introduce your kids to the outdoors and keep them having fun? I’m glad you’re here for this conversation because it’s important!
I’ll never forget one of the first times I geared up for an elk hunt in the temperamental Cascade range in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. I dug through my camo, geared up my two young boys, packed food, threw in some books, grabbed my rifle, and ensured all was a go.
I planned this evening in the mountains for quite some time, and the excitement grew as we got ready.
I, of course, as a well seasoned single-mom harnessed the potential for disaster, a random meltdown, and coming home empty-handed, but I never imagined it would work out quite the way it did. And don’t get excited by the thought of it turning out better than expected - it was a bonafide disaster!
I don’t think we made it ten minutes from home before the inevitable “are we there yet?” began. A question that’s not unfamiliar to a parent, but the fact it was immediately followed by the backseat sibling brawl, “I’m hungry,” “I’m bored,” and “how much longer?” made it a little more challenging than usual. It was also the beginning of my frustration and the first ingredient in the catastrophe that day that day turned into.
A certain peace comes from immersing yourself in nature—a solitude and oneness with the wild that is nearly impossible to experience in other areas of life. So, naturally, I also hoped to taste that sweetness and peace on this trip. An expectation I would quickly learn would lead me to the heart of irritation.
It took me several more attempts, botched trips, and meltdowns from all of us before I realized I was going about it all wrong.
So, how do you get the kids involved in the hunt? Before we dive into how, it’s pivotal to remember that patience is critical for anything to be a success, especially with kids. As a youngster, we can all pull up a memory of being talked into something that just really didn’t appeal to us. “It'll be fun,” they say, but it’s not. Keep in mind these new experiences for kids are received much differently from their perspective than ours.
Here are 5 tips for getting your kids outdoors and having fun:
Keep them comfy! Comfortable, warm, fed, and entertained kiddos are the first few ingredients in the success recipe. Pack all the layers needed (and then some), food and drinks, good shoes and gear for your chosen activity, and alternative entertainment (should you need to shift gears).
Get hands-on! Keep them engaged, and give them a job to do. Depending on your kids' age and capabilities, this can be tailored to an age-appropriate task. If special gear is needed for the outing, put them in charge of caring for something. For example, a kid with binoculars looking for game will be well entertained. Again, ensure safety is always top of mind and give them only age-appropriate gear.
Plan ahead with a short trip, and know ahead of time this trip may be a different kind of adventure. Instead of going into it with anticipation of a successful or easy trip, which is always a bonus, make it an exploratory mission for the entire family, no matter the outcome.
Make things fun, and keep kids busy with simple and easy-to-acquire jobs. Stop and teach them how to identify tracks, explain what they are, and let them find some of their own. Play a game of ‘I spy’, seek out new kinds of foliage, trees, flowers, or berries, then add a quick lesson about the vegetation and what deer, elk, bear, and other wildlife feed on. Stop to check out streams, show them game trails, have a rock-throwing contest, try to identify the noises you hear, and see which ones they can pick up on.
Learn together! Take the chance to explain to them what public land is, that it’s theirs, and why we have it. Pick up leaves and play together, build a fort, or play a game about survival in the wild. You are now a teacher in the most fabulous place on earth. Soak it up!
It took me much longer than I would have liked to let go of my expectations on trips into the wilderness with my kids. Let go of my idea of how it should go and simply embrace what it was: an authentic bonding experience with my kids in its rawest form. A chance to share bits about our heritage, uninterrupted moments to show them a glimpse of where we came from and the much different way of life that our ancestors lived.
Remember, this is their first impression of a passion, and likely a family tradition, that is near and dear to you, do what you can to make it an enjoyable learning experience, and you are likely to have them hooked before you know it - nurturing your kids love for the outdoors, that is a true success!