If you’re reading this post, you probably don’t have to be convinced that nature is awesome. But you might be interested to know that science has finally confirmed that it’s actually really good for you, too. Last year, a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia released the results of a study involving data from 290 million people in 20 countries, finding that “living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits.”
These findings come close on the heels of Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, which illustrates undeniable links between what he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder” in children and a host of physical, mental and emotional problems ranging from obesity to anxiety and beyond. Here at Kelty, we’re equally passionate about the outdoors and the next generation of outdoorspeople—and we’re deeply dedicated helping parents get kids outside. As parents and professed nature lovers, here’s how we’re raising kids who love the outdoors.
Be a Role (and Roll-With-It) Model. When your kids are little, their parents are their primary influence—so the things you do on a regular basis will form their early ideas of what’s normal and right. The more time you can spend outside, as a family, the more this will become the status quo; regular family outdoor activities like a weekly picnic night in the backyard or an easy bike+trailer ride to a nearby park can form a solid foundation of positive associations with the outdoors.
This strategy will serve you well as your kids get older, and they naturally start to resist being told what to do. Even if it means tag-teaming outside time with your partner, the more your kids see YOU enjoying the outdoors—even if they don’t join you on every adventure—the more they’ll develop an understanding of nature as an important part of everyday life.
Now, regarding the roll-with-it part—this may be the most important component of raising kids who love the outdoors, so listen up. Particularly if you’re an avid outdoorsy type, you MUST abandon all expectations…and learn to let your kids’ experience of nature, as well as their own unique pace of experiencing nature, drive the ol’ camper van for a few years.
GEAR REC: A Burley Bee bike trailer, deep breaths and a growler of your favorite beer.
Make ‘Em Walk. We can’t stress this enough: as soon as your kids can reliably walk without assistance, DITCH. THAT. STROLLER. Will it kind of suck at first? Yes. Will there be so much whining? Also yes. Will everything take five times longer? Still yes. But intentionally raising adventure kids who are used to the idea that they can get themselves where they need to go—whether around town or on a trail—will help build resilience in both mind and body.
Of course, your little ones will need a break from time to time. And of those times, Michael Lanza, creator of the award-winning blog The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine, says, “I preferred a child-carrier backpack to a stroller. It gives you exercise, is more convenient on stairs, and helps communicate to kids that our family carries packs—that we’re hikers.”
GEAR REC: Journey PerfectFit Signature child carrier—for the long and no-whining road.
Persist, Don’t Push. Here’s the thing about kids. They’re exactly like Colorado weather: sunshine one moment, and insane torrential downpour the next. When you’re hiking with kids, you’ll need to find that fine line between pushing them to do something they truly feel fearful about, and gently-but-firmly persisting through a temporary storm of wills. It’s important to remember that things that are exciting to you—like a steep trail or a large body of water—might feel unfamiliar and frightening to your little ones.
Raising adventure kids isn’t about forcing them to overcome fears on your schedule; this creates the risk of developing early negative associations with nature. It’s about giving them consistent exposure and support they need to explore at their own pace. Our advice is to start small, with short hikes and nearby outings with frequent milestones along the way.
GEAR REC: Redcloud Junior, so junior can carry his own stuff—as soon as s/he’s ready
Cash ‘Em Outside. In an increasingly plugged-in world, the lure of the digital screen can be downright irresistible to kids—adults too, for that matter! But think back to when you were little, and “go outside” was literally a whole parenting strategy. Remember how you’d spend entire days getting up to all kinds of mischief with the neighborhood kids…inventing games and climbing trees and thoroughly exploring the slowly expanding universe of your life?
Don’t you want this for your kids, too? Outdoor play is naturally more active than indoor play, both mentally and physically. Yes, people lock their doors now, and the world is a different place. But as long as you set some age-appropriate boundaries for exploring, your kids are in no more danger than you were—and look, you managed to survive to adulthood!
Get ‘Em Their Own Gear. Most of us have a rookie story, and many of them are about not having the right gear. My own involves a three-day hike through Yosemite National Park, including a cable-assisted ascent of Half Dome, in borrowed VINTAGE hiking boots and thick COTTON socks. (Spoiler alert: it did not go well). And the moral of these stories? The right equipment can make all the difference. If your goal is raising adventure kids that feel comfortable in the wilderness, it’s wise to do all you can to keep them warm and dry.
GEAR RECS: No matter where you’re hiking with kids, make sure they have a size-specific kids’ pack, like the Redcloud mentioned above, or our old-school Sanitas 34 frame pack. For family camping trips, keep them cozy with our Big Dipper or Woobie sleeping bags—both of which come in models designed for boys and girls.
DID YOU KNOW: Kelty’s Cause is the Cure for the Common Kid Fund—a path to helping families spend more time outside, where kids can do what they were born to do. We’re partnering with like-minded organizations to offer gear and financial support, planning outside events for kids in our communities, and providing tips and tricks (like this article) to help get more kids outside on the regular.
For more Built for Play fun, follow @keltybuilt on Facebook and Instagram.
Photos: Kat Dierickx