Monday, August 15, 2011

Encouraging your kids to love the outdoors

Encouraging your kids to love the outdoors
by Jess Spate

Most kid's hobbies fade away as they grow up, but a love of the outdoors can stay with a person from early childhood to retirement and beyond. People of any age who really enjoy being outside in the fresh air tend to be more active and fitter, and more aware of environmental issues. They are never short of a holiday destination and never without a new challenge. Each mountain summit reached or goal achieved builds self-esteem and independence. Of all the gifts parents can give, time spent having fun in the mountains or the woods must be one of the greatest. 

There is no reason not to start young. Although pre-schoolers have to be watched even closer than usual outside the home they have a natural fascination with anything new. A rock pool on the beach is better than any toy. They'll love investigating the outdoors, and while they have fun you can start to teach them some very important lessons.  

Even little kids can learn about looking out for hazards and staying safe- something that will help them as they grow up and face risks no parent can insulate them from. With your help they can develop the confidence to deal with new situations and the thoughtfulness and compassion to tread lightly in a fragile environment.
If you love the outdoors yourself, it can be frustrating when your kids don't seem to share your feelings, but there are ways to help them understand your passion. If your children would rather stay home in front of the Playstation than venture out for a walk in the woods with you, going somewhere with interesting animal life can be a great way to get them enthusiastic about the outdoors. Few children can resist the excitement of seeing bears in Yosemite or alligators in the Everglades. A weekend vacation may be all it takes to change your kid's mind about hiking. 

Hiking and camping with teenagers gives you an opportunity to spend some real quality time with them, and talk without any distractions. Working together towards a shared goal- it could be the completion of a long distance footpath or reaching a high peak- is a bonding experience, something which both parents and teens need from time to time. 

As kids get older you might have to introduce a little more adrenaline to keep them interested. Beginner rock climbing, white water rafting, horse trekking, and surfing are all reasonably safe pastimes with the right guide or instructor. Some, like rock climbing, are far safer than most people would imagine, and kids as young as 5 can get involved. 

Don't be afraid to show nervousness when you take your kids for a day's guided climbing, mountain biking, or rafting. A little fear is nothing to be ashamed of. If you can let kids and teens see that you're afraid but standing up to fear, laughing at your mistakes and trying again, that gives them one great example of how to live life.

Jess Spate is a former rock climbing instructor, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. She works for Appalachian Outdoors, where you can find a wide range of kids outdoor gear and believes that camping, climbing, and swimming outdoors is the best fun a family can have.



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