Words and photos by Amanda Edmonds
The benefits of being outside are so abundant; it’s a no-brainer to get your family outside as often as you can. Of course, with all the beautiful Instagram pictures and blog posts out there, it’s no surprise that most people would think that setting off on adventures with children is easy. Ummm... remember those mini versions of yourself? Yeah, it’s going to require a bit of planning and get a bit messy, but I promise it is SO worth it.
I want my children to value the awesome memories they will create in the outdoors over the latest toy or electronic device. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but if you are regularly planning camping trips and outdoor adventures, eventually those wish lists will start turning into outdoor adventures and an overflowing storage closet of gear. My kids have gained so much confidence and pride because of the crazy adventures we regularly take them on. Here are my top tips for keeping your sanity with kids in the outdoors… or getting kids excited about the outdoors – whichever way you choose to look at it.
ALL the snacks – Yes, I said ALL the snacks. I dare you to try taking your kids into the outdoors without snacks. Actually, nope. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Please, for your sanity pack them ALL. Some favorites that we always pack include: avocados, mandarin oranges, grapes, protein bars, jerky, applesauce, olives and of course the favorite of almost every kid – fruit snacks. Hiking will burn calories, and there’s something about the outdoors just makes us all hungry. Please, feed the children and keep the hanger at bay for everyone’s sake!
Get the kids involved in planning – This is a great starting point for building enthusiasm. Make it an adventure, not simply a walk or hike. Psych them up and build the excitement prior to starting. Simply sharing your enthusiasm will help build the excitement in them for the outdoors. Let them pick favorite spots, or give options for them to choose from. This helps them feel like they are part of it and not just being dragged on something you are making them do.
Talk about garbage in nature and bring bags to pick up trash. What better way to teach your children about the environment than to immerse them in the outdoors. Show them why the reduce, reuse, recycle mentality is so important. Teach them leave-no-trace ethics, and why we need to take care of our planet. Childhood is the best time to instil stewardship, ethics and respect for the outdoors. People take care of things they love, so teach your kids to love nature and to take care of our Mother Earth!
Get them their own packs – Kids love having their own packs. I have found the funniest things in my kid’s packs, ranging from feather boas to Wonder Woman shields. One word of caution: always do bag checks prior to getting on the trail. One trip I neglected to do this and my little lady was extra slow… you guessed it, her pack was loaded with so much junk, I swear it was over 10lbs.
The things I encourage in their packs include: a whistle (I know – so annoying, but great if they get lost), an emergency blanket, a water bladder with their own water, a few snacks, and a headlamp or flashlight. Beyond that, leave things up to them within reason. An important rule is that if they bring it, they have to carry it. A few small toys, like cars or ponies, are perfect and lightweight. Add a coloring book and pencils and you are set.
Start small and adjust expectations – This is huge. You are not always going to accomplish long distances or always reach your destination, and that is okay. Start small and keep a reasonable pace. Actually, this is why kids make hiking so amazing. As adults, we are so goal oriented and locked in on the destination rather than the journey. Enjoy the slow pace and look at every rock, butterfly, stick or whatever it is that catches your kids’ eyes. Live in the moment and look at all these treasures through your children’s perspective.
Of course, a little incentive to get going is entirely appropriate or you may not leave the parking lot. I have found that getting going is the hardest part. Once you’ve set off, things quickly get easier. Find what works for your kids. Make it an adventure. Play eye spy. Hide toys up the trail or around the campsite for them to find. Choosing adventures that end in water is almost always a win. What kid doesn’t want to get all muddy and play in the water afterwards?! I always tell my youngest we can go as slow as she needs and take breaks as needed, but eventually, we are going to keep going.
Make it fun – We pack small lightweight card games, match games and bring things to color and draw. Sometimes we play hide and seek or simply lay on a blanket and cloud gaze. Sometimes just taking a break from a strenuous hike to picnic and play will help reset any bad attitudes and recharge everyone's energy. After all, you are out there to have fun! If that means stopping partially through a planned adventure and calling it quits versus rather than plowing through miserable situations, I say choose the fun route. I promise next time your children will be far more excited to come.
All in all, a handful of little things and some extra prep go a long way in making time outside with your kids more enjoyable. Take it from me – it will get easier each time and your packing practices will quickly start to become habit.