For Christmas this year, our daughter’s asking for a backpacking stove. In her stocking, Santa would make her really happy if he found a jar of salve for climbing hands. She’s looking forward to a family ski into a backcountry cabin over the holidays. So, how did we raise such an outdoor enthusiast?
Here are our top ten tips:
1. Simply get going. Turn off the T.V. and computer, leave the dishes in the sink, forget about that book you want to read and head outdoors. We kept initial outings short enough that we didn’t need to pack an arsenal of baby supplies. Keeping it simple meant we got going more often.
2. Be flexible. Nothing will go as planned, it’s almost a guarantee. But if you’re willing to take the experience for what it is – a chance to enjoy fresh air and spend one on one time with your child – each outing will have its own charm.
3. Learn to slow down. Once your child is old enough to walk or ski, let them do it. Be patient… it used to take us almost two hours to go around the block, stopping at every rock, every fallen leaf and generally dilly-dallying daily.
4. Make it fun. If you’re enjoying the outdoors, your child will too. It’s as simple as that. Go ahead and squeal as you catch a frog, laugh as you catch snowflakes on your tongue, and grimace aloud as the mud oozes over the top of your not-so-practical-as-you-thought duck shoes.
5. Praise works. “Good job”, “way to go”, “you’re fast”, “what a good hiker/climber/skier you are”. Memorize these phrases. Repeat them aloud, often. They will become your mantra while your child becomes a first-class outdoor enthusiast.
6. Treats and distractions. When you begin to work into longer outdoor outings, explore the benefits of treats. Simply hide a real fruit gummy (or any treat) on a rock, spruce branch or fallen log just off the trail. Make up a silly riddle as to its location and let them search and eat. They soon forget they are still hiking or skiing!
7. The sound of music. All right, you might not be Julie Andrews leading the Von Trapp family across the Alps, but anyone can sing “The ants go marching one by one…” Music helps the outing go on.
8. Count the spots. Go ahead, go natural. Bend down and look at the lichens, the leaves on the trees, and the ladybugs. Identify ladybug species by counting the spots on their back. Is it a 2-spot or a 7-spot?
9. Keep at it. Do something outdoors every day, whether going for a walk or simply gazing at the stars. Don’t stop when the rain falls and the snow flies. Use these times to learn about why the earthworms come out of their tunnels or splash through puddles; discover springtails flipping on ski trails or build a snowman.
10. And finally, gear up. You don’t need to spend a fortune on outdoor apparel for kids, but do make sure it fits comfortably. Learn to layer clothing – a fleece jacket and water/windproof layer are indispensable. Buy adequate headgear for sun and snow. Don’t overdress. Remember if they’re active, they’ll be warm and happy.