Perhaps nothing else can be more important to the well-being of our children than taking them into the outdoors, and the more, the better. When my wife and I started having kids we made a conscious decision that we would never buy a video game system or allow much TV watching. In fact, for our first several years of marriage we didn’t own a TV and never missed it. At various times our kids begged and pleaded for the latest xbox or whatever system, but we were firm. Instead, we invested in bikes, basketballs, rollerblades, backpacks, sleeping bags, bike trailers, baby carriers, kayaks, cross country skis, and other outdoor equipment.
Early in our marriage when I was in graduate school in Ohio we lived on the edge of a ravine. Our two kids at the time spent countless hours exploring, building forts, digging holes, and collecting “wildlife.” One day our daughter of about three years came into the house with hundreds of earthworms pouched up in her little play dress. She shudders to think about that now.
I remember the first overnight backpacking trip with my three older kids. They were probably 7, 5, and 3 years old at the time. (I never could quite figure out how to backpack with a baby in a baby carrier). My pack was enormous with all four sleeping bags, tent, cooking gear, and so on. Each of the kids carried a day pack with their extra clothes and eating gear, headlamp, and such. Kids take to the woods naturally and though we had car camped many times, that first time hiking out to a lake in the Uintas and staying over night was like a revelation to them. It was the first of many trips. As the kids got older older, they would carry their own sleeping gear. I found that for little kids, an external frame pack worked best to carry their sleeping bag and pad. (We used an REI brand pack as well as a Kelty).
As they grew into teenagers, they graduated to lighter internal frame packs. With each year, they could carry more and more (and I could carry less). Even into adulthood, the kids love the outdoors and look forward to our trips into the outdoors, whether they be backpacking, hiking desert canyons, bike touring, kayaking, or whatever.
Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder argues that our kids need that connection to the outdoors for their very well-being. And they need it from the time they are very young. I can think of nothing more therapeutic for a child (or an adult) than to get them away from the TV, away from video games, away from their always-connected world, out of their comfort zones, and into wild places where it is clean, quiet, and naturally beautiful. A star-filled night away from the lights of the city is an amazing thing. Kids are mezmerized by the night sky in the mountains, especially when you throw in some shooting stars. And standing on the top of a peak that took hours to get to gives kids a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
Camping out takes things back to a simple, basic, even primitive level. Sleeping on the ground, cooking over a fire, walking from point A to point B seems to force us to see things differently. We certainly will appreciate more the things we enjoy back home.
You don’t have to go far to experience the outdoors. It may be a state park, or even a city park can have the same effect. I know that whenever I am in the outdoors, even if it is just a one hour trail run or a bike ride up the canyon, I come back feeling refreshed and more clear of mind.
Here are a few more photos celebrating kids in the outdoors.
Sometimes it’s hard to find the time to get out, but I promise you will not regret it, and your kids will love you for it.
The link below is a great story (by a great writer and blogger) about the kind of adventures that kids (and their parents) need.