Natural Life Magazine

Have Child, Will Get Outside
By Wendy Priesnitz

Have Child, Will Get OutsideWhether you’d like to get outside right now, or are planning for your next vacation, there is no reason to let having a young child in your family stop you from pursuing your favorite outdoor activity.

Outdoor activities are a fun and inexpensive way to get your kids up and moving, avoiding the obesity epidemic and forging life-long habits and passions. The outdoors provides a great natural learning experience, as well as unique opportunities to bond with your child without the distractions of daily life. You’ll save money because, once you have the equipment, it’s less expensive to go fishing or snowshoeing than to take the kids to an amusement park.

With a little bit of planning and preparation, children of all ages can accompany you as you enjoy outdoor activities year ‘round, whether it’s a cross-country skiing expedition, an afternoon of cycling, a 30-minute hike or a week-long backpacking trip.

Planning Your Family’s Outdoor Adventure

  • Set reasonable limits and allow plenty of extra time for everything – packing gear, getting up in the morning, cooking, setting up the tent, and hiking. Remember that, in winter, the snow will slow you down and exhaust short legs.

  • If you or your kids are first-time campers, consider doing a rehearsal right in your backyard, learning how to set up a tent and how to build a campfire.

  • A tent with a separate porch is perfect for the family dog, or for storing wet boots and backpacks.

  • A “three-season” sleeping bag is good for most conditions. Look for junior or short-sized bags for kids And keep the sleeping bags dry – pack in plastic bags, use a tent cloth underneath your tent and teach your kids good tent etiquette in order to keep things dry.

  • Equipment can be expensive, especially if you have several children. You can solve that problem with used gear from equipment swaps. Many sporting goods stores rent things like snowshoes and cross-country skis, giving you a chance to try different activities and equipment before buying.

  • Make sure everybody has proper-fitting waterproof boots, either non-insulated hiking books or insulated winter boots, waterproof or quick-drying clothing and sun protection.

  • A backpacking trip is just an extended hike, sleeping out at least one night. Be careful that nobody carries too much weight – about 20 percent of body weight is suggested.

  • If you’re hiking with a baby, look for a child carrier that comes with accessories such as sun or rain canopies so that your passenger stays cozy and shielded from the elements. A front carrier or sling is recommended for babies up to six months old, to give head and neck support.

  • Hikes with infants should be very short; older babies may last up to an hour at a time. Given ample snacks, toddlers can usually handle a one- to two-mile hike.

  • To keep older children interested, make the hike a game of discovery, using a scavenger list of things to find along the way. Pack some bird and plant identification guides along with your patience.

  • Lastly, while planning is important, don’t take over and get your kids too organized. Make sure they’re involved from the beginning, then step back, let them learn from their own experiences and enjoy their adventurous spirit.

Learn More

Cradle to Canoe: Camping and Canoeing With Children by Rolf Kraiker, Debra Kraiker (Boston Mills Press, 1999)

The Outdoor Family Fun Guide: A Complete Camping, Hiking, Canoeing, Nature Watching, Mountain Biking, Skiing, Climbing, and General Fun Book for Kids (and Their Parents) by Michael Hodgson, Nicole Hodgson (McGraw Hill, 1998)

Parents’ Guide to Hiking & Camping: A Trailside Guide by Alice Cary (W.W. Norton, 1997)

Camping and Backpacking With Children by Steve Boga (Stackpole Books, 1995)

Kids in the Wild: A Family Guide to Outdoor Recreation by Cindy Ross, Todd Gladfelter (Mountaineers Books, 1995)

Photo © Christophe Testi/Shutterstock


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