Friday, April 25, 2014

Sharing the Outdoors With Your Children

Over time, I have learned the following preparation tips to help put your mind at ease as well as keep your kids engaged.  If they don't enjoy the outdoors as a kid because you are acting like a psycho, it will be your fault when they hate it as they get older.

Set Small Goals, Have Backup Plan
Learn the hike, no matter how short it is.  Set goals and the contingency plan in advance.  Run through the scenarios with your wife / husband / hiking partner.  "If they are struggling in mile 1 we will cut our losses at landmark A instead of trying to complete the 5 mile loop."

Make an Activity List, Not a Scheduled Checklist
When camping, they don't need every hour planned out.  It will work against you as you rush through activities or push them to walk faster so you can fit everything in.  Instead, get them excited about small activities.  Making s'mores.  Playing a certain games.  Seeing a sea cave or waterfall.  Starting a fire.  Don't rush through them either.  Take your time.  If starting a fire has them fascinated for an hour vs. the 15 minutes you expected, don't rush to the next thing.  It is about them enjoying the time, not getting through your checklist. 

Plant Seeds and Set Small Goals
The longest hike I did with my 4 and 7 year old was 7 miles in the heat.  In perparation, my wife and I did some marketing.  We would talk about sea caves, hiking near the ocean, cooking on fires, interesting facts about animals.  When the time came, they were excited to go on a hike where we will see a sea cave and might see come dolphins.  To them, it wasn't a 5 mile hike.  It was climbing a mountain.  Then seeing a sea cave.  Then eating their favorite lunch with small candy breaks along the way.  We didn't talk about the end - just each destination.  When I went camping with my son, he wanted to start a fire.  Then he wanted a hot dog.  Then it was time for smores.  Plant these seeds in advance, even days prior to the trip.  "Hey Buddy, did you know there are caves in the water?  Did you know you can see the whole city from the top of the mountain?"  Then, during the hike, he will ask me 100 questions (or the same 20 questions 5 times).  "Do dolphins live in the caves?  Do sharks?  Do sharks eat people?  Will they ever eat me?  Do monsters live there?  What to monsters eat?"  Next thing you know, you are past the halfway point and they aren't even struggling.

Encourage and Energize
Your kids need two types of energy.  Mental and Physical.  Be prepared to feed both.

Physical Energy - It begins with a good, hearty meal an hour prior.  It can't be a big enough surving to make them full and tired, but enough to quench their hunger and give them good energy (vs. complex carbs or sugar energy that they will burn quickly).  Let them pack the lunch and snacks.  I will post some great meals and snacks, but in the meantime, research backpacking nutrition and get creative.  Keep small sweet snacks too, and use them sparingly.  After the 3rd mile, tell them you are proud at how grown up they are and how well they are doing, and give them a chocolate or some type of sweet reward that has other energy benefits.  Chocolate and bluberries are both very popular.  

Mental Energy - Whether they act like it or not, they need your constant approval and energy.  If you spend a whole hike dragging them along or yelling at them, they will dread hiking.  But if you make a big deal about little wins, you will see how positive of an effect it will have on their energy.  For example, I continued to ask my son if he was a tough man and tell him how proud I was that he was that he was doing so well.  He took off his shirt on one hike when he was hot and a teenager walked by with no shirt.  He was like, "Daddy, look that man doesn't have hit shirt on either!"  For the rest of the hike, we he walked with his chin up and his shirt off, saying he was a big man.

Built in Education
An outdoor hike is a perfect time to be a teacher, but it has to be organic.  I start a lot of my sentences with "did you know..." as I pass a certain plant, wild life, landscape, etc.  Stories are also great ways to teach instead of just spitting out random facts.  For example, 'you notice how a lot of the bushes are black?  It is because they were burned.  A fire burned up a lot of their forest.  [Then, go on to explain how nature sometimes has natural fires as a normal cycle].

At the end of the day, the more time you put into preparation with the goal of letting things happen organically, the more they will enjoy the trips.

What have I missed?  Do you have any other trips or stories?


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