July 5, 2017

How I’m Teaching my Kids to Love the Outdoors

I grew up in a family that loved to adventure in the outdoors.

We were always exploring, backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing, biking and in general, getting dirty. Our family took 2 week road trips every summer and explored the National Parks and Monuments of American’s West. We were invited guests for an authentic Pow Wow in New Mexico and attended a real Rodeo in Wyoming. In Yellowstone we hiked near buffalo and caught trout in the Wind River. We learned about turquoise in Santa Fe, listened to rifles being shot along the Rio Grande, and hiked around many hazards in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. In Minnesota we hooked northern pike and portaged canoe trails in the Boundary Waters. In Colorado we listened to elk bugle. We never thought twice about picking up ticks, scratching mosquito bites, or sleeping in a tent during thunderstorms.

These outdoor adventures were continually weaved throughout the memories of my childhood. Ultimately, they rooted themselves so strongly into my persona, that I pursued Outdoor Recreation as an undergraduate. With the confidence acquired through earned experiences and an ability to be comfortable in the outdoors, I moved to Alaska. I spent the first part of my career as a backcountry guide leading sea kayaking and snow-machine trips through Alaska’s Prince William Sound and Chugach Mountains.

Outdoor recreational activities and the adventures they contain have positively impacted my life so dramatically. Now, as a father, I am in a position to pay it forward. I feel lucky to be able to shape the next generation of explorers. I have just begun the hard work of teaching my kids how to be comfortable in and to love the outdoors.

Teaching my Kids to Love Outdoors

Teaching my kids to walk before they run…up mountains

I know that to successfully build a level of trust and appreciation for the outdoors within my kids, I need to start with small goals and to look for easy wins. For example, last summer I took my daughter Stand Up Paddleboarding. We never stood up. She and I sat and paddled across the lake on the same board, while she got to use a handmade canoe paddle my Dad had carved for her. With her own paddle, she could engage and be an equal partner in propelling us across the water. She and I have also built fires in our backyard together. She now knows about the “log cabin” technique.

My son acquired his first headlight, sleeping bag and sleeping pad last month. We are looking ahead to a weekend spent in a tent in the backyard. Both my kids received their first camelbacks so that they can carry their own water on hikes. I’ll soon teach them how to filter water from a lake or stream. They both are learning about Leave No Trace backcountry ethics. Every time we hike, they know to pack out any trash we find along the trail, even if it’s not ours.

Teaching my Kids to Love Outdoors

I have this lofty vision to recreate for them, what was created for me – that is, to give them opportunities for high adventure through outdoor recreation that the whole family can enjoy. I’ve been working on this vision for three years now. I am seeing that with incremental learning and gradual skill progression, their tiny minds are absorbing so much information. Every time we get outside, they have an opportunity to apply that information. They get to experience things for themselves. I anticipate several more years and many more experiences before my desired vision becomes a reality. But, until then, we will chip away at skill development. This will build their confidence and make their experiences in the outdoors comfortable.

Going slowly into anything new in fitness

I’m taking a very slow and steady approach with my kids. It is a concept that can also be applied to adults interested in improving their overall health. What I’ve found works for me personally, and what I’ve seen occur within campus populations, is that it takes time to realize a lofty vision. To eventually realize that vision, you’ve got to get started somehow. And, you’ve got to have patience.

My goals will take me years to accomplish with my young kids. Your goals may take you years to accomplish within a fitness, aquatic or recreation center. Your vision might be to swim 200, 800 or 1,000 yards nonstop, or complete 10 consecutive pull ups, or to increase your flexibility. You won’t get there in one day. Discipline leads to repetition and repetition leads to experience. Experience leads to comfort, and comfort leads to enjoyment. And what I’ve found is, if you enjoy something, you find ways to protect and preserve it as a part of your life. In time, your vision inches closer and closer to reality.

A summer outdoors

So, this summer, I will be setting aside time to teach my kids how to use a backcountry stove. They’ll learn how to choose the right fuel, prime the pump and ignite the burner. They’ll help mix the ingredients and they’ll even help clean up afterwards. I plan to do this many more times with them until they are comfortable doing it themselves and have a level of proficiency to where they actually enjoy backcountry cooking. After that, we’ll be one step closer to my vision of a two week backpacking trip.