As a fan of the Great Outdoors, there’s no doubt that you’d love to share that passion for outdoor adventure with your kids. Whether your children already enjoy spending time outdoors or would rather stay inside, there are a few tips and tricks that can help nurture a lifelong desire to get outside and explore.
As you read, keep one important point in mind: If you try to force your kids to enjoy camping or hiking as much as you do, success will be short-lived (after all, kids love doing things most when it’s their own idea.) But, following these suggestions just might allow that love to grow naturally, and that’s exactly what you want.
Start getting your kids outside as early as possible — use a baby carrier for hikes with little ones, and as soon as children can walk, take them on nature strolls and hikes that short legs can handle.
It also pays off to start small, because there’s little that can be done if a toddler or young child decides to have a trail-side meltdown. It can be hard to know when to push a child to keep trying, and when to let them take a break, but you’ll quickly learn how to identify the warning signs. There’s nothing that will ruin a love of the outdoors faster than negative associations with hiking, camping, and other activities, so choose adventures wisely.
Taking it easy with the kids means you’ll have to slow down, but try to frame the slowdown positively, because now you can re-discover your favorite spots through the curious eyes of a kid.
Michael Lanza is the creator of The Big Outside, and he has some excellent tips on raising kids who love the outdoors. This gem is particularly useful: Employ bribery strategically. He suggests bringing along a favorite candy bar and a favorite stuffed animal, which helps create positive associations with the activities you’re doing together.
Bribery isn’t the only way to keep kids happy — giving them their very own gear can also help. Even if it’s just a small backpack for their snacks or a headlamp.
When you’re trying to keep little legs from getting too tired, giving the kids some autonomy might be the last thing on your mind. But, letting them help out is a crucial part of nurturing a love for being outside. Imagine how proud you felt the first time you managed to start a campfire in the rain-dampened woods, because your kids will feel similarly when they contribute.
Whether you’re camping, hiking, or something else, there are plenty of small and large tasks that kids of all ages can complete. Younger kids can help prepare freeze dried meals, for starters, even if their help is simply stirring. Tent pitching, wood gathering, trail selection, and more can all be tackled with assistance from your children.
As you plan family trips and think about how to introduce your kids to the outdoors, remember that children often want to do what they see their parents doing. So, keep hiking, camping, backpacking, trail running, and whatever else you love doing outside. Chances are, the kids will want to join sometime.