“If he sleeps when he needs to and eats when he wants, we can take him anywhere,” he replied. “So we can pretty much do whatever we want, and everyone’s generally happy.”
In the years that followed, during which Cathleen and I had two children and took them on a series of outdoor adventures, we discovered that bringing our children into a natural environment benefits everyone.
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It makes sense, says Patricia Hasbach, a psychotherapist in Eugene, Oregon, author of “Grounded: a guided journal to help you reconnect with the power of nature and with yourself.” “We evolved as part of the natural world, but at this point in our history, we’ve never been so far removed from it,” she says, with about 80% of Americans living in urban environments and our society at the scale of technology addiction. “It’s all very primitive, … and we need that re-engagement with the natural world.”
I never analyzed it to such an extent, but I knew that I was happier in nature and that I wanted to share this transcendental joy with my family. Here are some tips gleaned from my 13 years of training outdoor-loving child travelers.
Start early. Carrying babies and toddlers outdoors is as much about maintaining your own outdoor travel cadence as it is about engendering a love of nature in them. Because if you start using your spawn as an excuse to hang out in sidewalk cafes, malls, or (gasp!) your house, you could lose your mojo forever.
Granted, dragging tiny humans outside for an extended period of time involves Eagle Scout-level planning — diaper bag, nap time, snacks, toys — which makes it wise to…
Start locally. The path to an awesome 1,000 trips begins at the touch of the panic button. That is, when your baby still has that new motherhood smell, bring your representatives of nature close. For us, that meant walks in Rock Creek and great falls parks, during which we realized that Colorado Man was right: babies have very simple needs.
So emboldened, when Kai was 5 weeks old, we took him to southern Arizona, where we cradled his small bulk on numerous hikes, including one deep into the Kartchner Caves. In the years that followed, Kai, now 13, and his sister, Christina, 10, dug (and surely ate) sands from places as disparate as Cape Hatteras in St. hiked and skied across the country, rode waves in Hawaii, and biked, canoed, caving and rock-climbed throughout the mid-Atlantic.
They might not vote to repeat everything, namely the 2010 camping trip to a music festival outside of Cumberland, Maryland, when high winds and hail swept Cathleen and Kai into the camper. because of a sponsor to take refuge. Or the time 5-year-old Christina rolled down a natural slide into a Shenandoah creek bed, lost her footing, and disappeared around a dead-end bend. (By the grace of Mother Nature, she landed in another pool, unscathed, right after I lost sight of her.)
I shiver every time I remember this episode, but, as Hasbach says: “Our species has always been adventurers and risk takers. It’s part of our deep memory, and when young people don’t have those opportunities to have close calls in the wild, they’ll seek out other channels of risk: drugs, promiscuity, and other things. If a child falls out of a tree and breaks an arm, that can be fixed. But what if the child never ends up in a tree? What are we missing? »
Still, it can be hard to keep kids away from sedentary entertainment, which is why you need to…
Think like a child. Maxims such as “We’ll all feel better after doing this”, “No pain, no gain!” and “GET IN THE CAR THIS MOMENT SO WE CAN GO HAVE FUN!” doesn’t resonate well with the under-10 set.
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A tactic: Channel your inner child. On a Saturday at the start of the pandemic, as Kai and Christina rocked our living room in a medieval battle and fiercely resisted our hiking plans, Cathleen suggested moving the drama to the evil lord’s fortress – in George Washington’s National Forests. and Jefferson. By noon, armed with foam axes, plastic swords and a convoluted script, we rode an eight-mile tromp without a single complaint.
When all else fails, invite their friends over. The kids would rather crawl over broken glass in a wasteland with their friends than ski alone in Aspen, Colorado, so recruit accordingly. And once you’re there…
Don’t push it too hard. My cousin Timmy, a former ski patroller in Utah, recounts the time he led his 4-year-old son, Griffin, down a double black diamond run after Griffin managed to ski a few single black diamonds. “I knew he had the skills to ski it, but he just freaked out,” Timmy said. “I had to wear it down. He refused to ski for three years after that. Although now Griffin, at 16, is a world-class competitor in the grueling sport of ski mountaineering, so do what you want with it.
In general, it’s best to open the door to the possibilities and let the child determine the level of intensity. Have patience, grasshopper: they’ll speed up the process soon enough.
But definitely push it. Children are factory prepared for adversity, isolated with quick-healing bodies and an innate sense of adventure and danger. “Things rarely go as planned in nature,” Hasbach says. “So kids need to learn flexibility, problem solving, resilience, and all of those things contribute to self-confidence.”
A few years ago, we found ourselves pedaling an ATV down a seemingly endless Appalachian fire road, and the long, flowing downhill trail we had heard about was nowhere in sight. With a mutiny brew, I recalled the Navy SEAL tactic of evaluating a big challenge as a series of smaller ones.
“If we get to the next corner, it will get easier,” I lied to Christina. (Cathleen, with much more sincerity, promised her a cookie.) When the next bend, and the next three, revealed only more uphill and Christina invoked curses on my soul, I pushed our two bikes while singing show tunes with her until we crossed the ridge and rode, to her audible woo-hoos, down a three-mile laurel-lined trail and back to our campsite.
Never show that you are worried, especially when you are. Lost in the Adirondacks? Running out of water in the desert? Fighting upstream in a canoe as a storm hits the gorge? I went there, and even when the hair on my neck caught the eye, I managed to have a happy and fun demeanor throughout the day. Ask my children the first rule of adventure, and you will hear, in harmony in two parts: “Never panic.
What matters most to children is the same thing that matters to us: sharing life-enhancing experiences with the people we love. And for that, I have yet to find anything that lives up to the exterior. One day far too soon, Cathleen and I will be left out of many of our children’s adventures. But until then, they’re stuck with us, out there somewhere, living in the wild.
Briley is a writer based in Takoma Park, Md. His website is johnbriley.com.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advice can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDCs travel health advice webpage.