In an era when fresh air is favored, it may be an ideal time to nurture your family’s interest in the natural world.
Here are five ways to encourage the next generation of outdoor adventurers.
1. Opt for outside fun.
A slew of experts agree that regular, unstructured outside play is critical for a child’s healthy development.
To that end, encourage youngsters to head out the door with the freedom to roam, staying safe within set boundaries, guided by their age, environment and experience.
Pair free play with plans for regular outdoor activity as a family: opt for cross-country or downhill skiing, snow-shoeing and hiking on local trails, fly-fishing in a nearby lake or stream, star-gazing, biking or even walking through your neighborhood or local community.
When exploring together, encourage your kids to notice the way water courses through a stream, how the leaves rustle in the trees, how clouds form overhead and to observe the movement of creatures large and small.
2. Start slow. Then go!
When the time is right for adventure, it pays to take baby steps, advises Michael Lanza, author of “Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks” (Beacon Press).
“Begin with short hikes and gradually work up to longer outings,” says Lanza, who gathered personal experience as a field editor with Backpacker magazine. “Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.”
Lanza’s book chronicles his family’s yearlong trip through our national parks. Their adventure included sea kayaking and wilderness camping in Glacier Bay, Alaska. He determined that his children were ready for such an outing because they had previously backpacked, rock-climbed, floated and camped on a wilderness river, and cross-country-skied through snowstorms.
“They had managed stressful situations well and understood the need to follow instructions and that trips have uncomfortable moments,” said Lanza. “Despite how wet and raw it was, they loved Glacier Bay.”
3. Pair real life adventure with online inspiration.
Given our current climate, a far-flung, epic adventure may not be possible in the short term. But training, gearing up and planning for the future is part of the fun.
There are countless videos, movies and educational classes available via the internet that could serve as a compelling introduction to new parts of the world, as well as to challenging sports — such as climbing, kayaking and backcountry skiing — that may be of interest to a developing outdoor enthusiast. There are also many online resources that can help explain the ongoing effects of climate change.
4. Flexibility is key.
Whether hiking in Zion, paddling through the Boundary Waters or camping in your own backyard, flexibility matters. Kids, particularly younger ones, will want to throw rocks in the creek, stomp through a puddle or linger to watch a caterpillar crawl.
That’s part of the fun.
And when the unexpected rainstorm descends or the flurries begin to fly without warning, it’s always handy to have Plan B. Of course, those unforeseen moments often make for the best memories.
5. Outdoor Adventure Creates Confidence
Finishing a long hike, paddling through rapids or even crafting the perfect camp site can go a long way toward building confidence in kids. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that time spent in nature can result in reduced stress levels, improved attention and increased motivation for children and adults. Given the uncertainty about how the upcoming school year will play out, it’s good to know that nature’s classroom can provide powerful benefits.
(Lynn O’Rourke Hayes (www.LOHayes.com) is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via FamilyTravel.com
©2020 Lynn O’Rourke Hayes