How to Get Your Kids Outdoors-Ideas for Parents
How do I get my kids outdoors?
My crew of kids range in age from teenage to infant, so the activities that I enjoy with them are all over the map. But one thing is a constant, with each generation it seems to be getting harder to motivate your kids to spend time outdoors. Technology has replaced the basketball goal in the driveway or playing tag football in the yard.
As a Dad, I think it falls on me to push them to get up and move. I know years ago, kids would leave the house after breakfast and not set foot in it again until dinner. Those days are long gone, or so it seems. Most outdoor activities have to compete for their attention, and technology seems to be winning out (here are my thoughts on that).
But let me recommend an idea that might be just what you need in order to get your kids out of the house, and put your mind at ease.
My number one activity is Hiking.
I know it might seem like a big first step for an outdoor activity, but hear me out. It has consistently been one of the best ways that I can get all of my kids together doing the same thing at the same time and often times there is limited cell service. Which is always a plus in my book.
If you polled my kids they would tell you that I might love it too much, but if you love being a Dad then you can’t beat this activity. It’s just a great way to spend time with your kids.
The appeal of hiking is that you can find a trail that fits your family’s skill set, we’re not climbing rock faces by any means. Over time we have come to love a good hike that offers more than a paved walking trail around a pond. But that’s where we started and the main thing to focus on is the time you can spend together.
What are some tricks to use to get them excited?
I’ve always tried to get the kids input on a hike, I like the idea of some buy-in on their part on where we’re going. I know we’re not going to hike the Appalachian Trail, but I do love a hike that becomes an event and not just another random something to do.
One other trick I use is that we pretty much all agree that there has to be a reward for the effort. What we mean by that, is there needs to be a killer view at the end if we’re hiking straight up a mountain. There needs to be a waterfall or a lake, or a stream to fish or swim in. There needs to be a reward.
I think that is a very fair proposition. Just walking around in the woods is fun to me, but you can only point out so many different types of leaves. But if you get to goof around in a stream or creek, I think any kid regardless of age loves that.
Another enticement I have used is to collect rocks. Which can be extremely useful if you invest in a rock tumbler. My 6-year-old thinks it really cool watching that drum spin and then seeing what comes out over time. But, he loves bringing back rocks from a hike, and whatever gets them excited then you need to embrace it.
Do you hike when it’s cold or just crappy weather?
I personally love a great hike when it not blazing hot, and it’s just cold enough that you don’t have to dress like you are about to hit the slopes at Vail. I’ve started on many hikes when the weather is fantastic and by the time we get to the car, it has totally changed. A fog may roll in or it could start raining out of nowhere. It happens, and that is part of the fun of hiking. It’s called the outdoors.
Do you take your infant son along?
Yes, and I have taken a few of them over the years. Depending on age I would recommend going with a backpack that is a kid carrier. The ones available today are so light, and they don’t have to destroy your back. You should do your research, but check Craigslist or Ebay and find a good quality brand.
I’ve resold all of my backpacks over the years, for basically what I paid for them. Kids grow up and there are always families transitioning out of these type of backpacks.
They are well worth the money in my opinion, and you can usually find a gently used one at a reasonable price.
What about taking your pet along?
One of the best things I ever did was bring our dog along. We have a smallish dog which makes it easy, but that dog loves it. No kidding. But my kids think it is so funny watching that dog run up and down the trails. Whether it is hiking through a stream or up a mountain that dog has done it and loved it.
Two summers ago we had our dog with us on a hike in North Carolina on a trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail is called “Graveyard Fields” and in the summer you can pick blueberries all along the trail. But as we were picking buckets full of blueberries, someone on the trail walked by and asked my youngest son what kind of dog we had. His response was classic… “She is a Mountain Poodle”
To this day we still call her a Mountain Poodle. Kids just seem to have a knack for using the perfect words to describe just about anything.
Do I need to invest in some equipment?
At first, I would say no, just get out and do it. Slap on some jogging shoes and whatever else you want to wear and get after it. If you decide in time to hike more technical trails then it’s time to get a pair of hiking boots. You can spend as much as your heart desires on boots, but once again buy quality and don’t forget about getting a good pair that is waterproof. They do cost a little more, but ultimately it is worth every penny.
I could argue both sides of walking sticks, I like them and I use them. My kids think I look like an old man with one. A good walking stick has helped me out on a ton of hikes. Another plus, is they are very handy when you need to move back a branch or some vines off the trail. It definitely beats getting stuck with thorns. It really comes down to personal preference, and if you feel safer using one then do it.
A good backpack is always a good idea, even if you are truly a novice. You can keep it simple and go with one that is nothing more than a sack with a drawstring or you can go get yourself one to scale Everest. My best advice about a backpack is to use it, forget about the brand or the features. You need to take water, and possibly a map or a jacket. But it really sucks when your kids are griping about being thirsty, and you have nothing to offer because you didn’t want to use a backpack. Get one and use it, it’s like an insurance policy for grouchy hikers. Being able to break out a snack at the opportune time can be a game changer to a family hike.
I got the basics, what do I do next?
The most important thing to remember is that you are in this to get your kids outside and spend some extended quality time together. They may gripe as you head out the door, but give it time and let nature do its thing. Over the course of a nice hike, watch as they slowly perk up and begin to enjoy themselves. Not every hike is going to go smoothly, that’s ok. Keep making the time and I promise you, in the end, it will be worth all the effort. Because you will have that one moment on a hike, where all the stars are aligned and it will seem like the perfect moment in time. If you’re like me as a Dad, that’s what this whole journey is about. Making those moments happen as often as possible.
So get out there and have the time of your life, and if you feel so inclined I would love to hear back on how it went. Good or bad, but hopefully good.