In a society where technology has become commonplace, people sit in restaurants and coffee shops, whether with friends or family, and are glued to their tablets and smartphones. Kids and adults alike are inundated with a nonstop flow of entertainment options. Whether it’s Netflix, networks that provide 24-hour programming, video games or game apps, it’s no wonder parents have trouble getting kids to unplug and play outside. Here are a few tips to help make that transition.
1. Disconnect and schedule time outside. Kids generally want to hang out indoors because that’s where their technology resides, like smartphones, tablets, game consoles and non-stop cartoon networks. Set time limits for technology and schedule a break to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be an epic adventure; everyday activities can serve the same purpose. Hike at a local city or state park, enjoy dinner outside, or plan a spontaneous scavenger hunt with the kids.
2. Be an active role model. Sedentary kids typically have sedentary parents. Kids who see active parents, tend to follow in their footsteps. This begins at an early age; you can start out slow and gradually extend the amount of time you spend outside. Extend the invitation to other kids who may be in similar situations and help them get out in nature too. I remember my wife and me kayaking with our twin nephews when they sat in the front of the tandem boats and picked up floating seaweed as we paddled along the intracoastal waterway.
3. There’s a time and place for technology. Technology isn’t all bad; it can be useful when the need arises. A friend came to visit and her 9-year-old son and I were outside on the deck talking sports when the conversation turned to constellations as stars began to appear. After much discussion and pointing out some of the more familiar ones, he retreated inside and grabbed his iPad and downloaded a stargazing app that aligns with the sky and identifies stars, constellations and planets. We continued this each night during the remainder of his stay.
4. Gear up! Here’s the good news: it doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear to get the kids out the door. Comfortable clothes and shoes are all you need. But it’s a good idea to always have a day pack ready with the essentials before heading out the door.
5. Let your kids be part of the planning. Encouraging kids to get involved in the planning helps get them excited for the adventures ahead. A good friend’s son came home one day after seeing a mural at school of the Seven Summits (the highest peak on every continent). He committed to climbing all seven and did so before he turned 16 (and set many world records in his quest!). All that was made possible because his dad and step-mom gave him the gift of YES!
6. Plan outdoor experiences around school breaks. During the school year, it’s hard to take extended time away so make the best of those days off school to plan getaways whether you go for only a few hours or can make it a few days. A family friend brought her three kids (9, 11 and 13) to see us during their spring break a few years ago. We spent that week enjoying the best that the New River Gorge area had to offer. Each subsequent spring break involved skiing, time on the water in kayaks or on stand-up paddleboards, riding ziplines, and whitewater paddling.
7. Take advantage of the evenings and weekends. For families with kids in school, often it’s not convenient to get outside in between all the busyness of homework and after-school activities. Here are some ideas to fit in time outside despite the shorter evenings. In addition, there are 52 weeks each year and they all end with a weekend. Try to carve out some time of the weekends to take a breather in nature and unplug and spend some quality time together as a family. One of my favorite childhood memories was the weekly camping trips our family took each weekend to the lake.
8. Let it evolve organically. While small children may get exposed to the great outdoors in a child carrier during hikes, sooner rather than later, they will want to explore on their own. Let them! Although the hikes may be shorter and more time may be spent picking up every rock or stick along the path, this will be time well spent and worth the longer and slower trek through the woods.
9. Raise the bar. As kids become more comfortable in outdoor adventures, try to keep the excitement level high and interesting. If they become bored, they may seek to bail on the outings. Try to pick out a new trail to tackle periodically, have them invite friends or mix things up with themed hikes or scavenger hunts.
10. Join a local organization. Groups and organizations, such as Hike it Baby, are a great way to discover new areas and meet like-minded families. And it’s a great way to learn new skills, explore never-before-visited trails and make lifelong friends. Take it a step further and join a challenge, like the Hike it Baby 30 Challenge, which happens twice a year, to give yourself goals to reach through the month or year.
The next generation of modern explorers may be taking their first steps today. Famous explorers Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, and Sir Edmund Hillary all pushed the barriers of exploration. However, just like kids today, they all had to start somewhere.
- Hiking groups and challenges to consider in the new year
- Hiking essentials: what to pack for a day hike
- 10 Essentials for the trail with baby
- 9 Tips for successful day hikes with young children
Clay Abney is a freelance adventure travel writer living in the “wild and wonderful” state of West Virginia. At 48 (the new 28), he still competes in multi-day adventure races, loves abusing gear, and traveling to remote and off-the-grid locations around the world. He enjoys sharing his experiences (and expertise) with friends and family while hopefully inspiring a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts.