Six things we’ve learned over the years that help us get outside with young children and enjoy the journey.
6 tips for family-friendly outdoor adventure.
It’s a typical Saturday morning. We’ve packed a few snacks and extra diapers into a backpack, and after much chaos, all five of us are buckled in the car. Everyone has shoes, we think. Next, we set out for Cougar Canyon near Coldstream, BC. The name just oozes adventure.
After 45 minutes on the road, the kids are getting restless and we roll into the parking lot just in time. The five of us pile out of our Honda Fit and take to the trail.
Our two older girls ramble along taking turns hiding the stuffed animals they have brought on the trip while our youngest toddles along, narrowly avoiding tree roots and large rocks. I finally scoop her up into our Ergo carrier to make the walk more efficient. We scramble up the last section of trail and are awarded a view that extends across Kalamalka Lake. Rolling hills collide with a blue bbluebirdThe Okanagan Valley never stops taking my breath away.
“Don’t even go one step further,” Steve tells the kids, his voice a little more serious than usual. There’s good reason. We’re up on a ridge and just a few feet from us, firm ground gives way to thin air as Cougar Canyon slices down hundreds of feet of sheer rock to the valley below.
We take the obligatory selfie then skedaddle. Getting away from the edge of a cliff seems the most prudent decision with a six, four and two-year-old in tow. Then we hit the beach, only a few kilometres away on Kalamalka Lake.
It isn’t easy choosing a life of adventure with children. Things take longer and much patience is required. But, while there are risks and challenges, every time we pack up and load ourselves and our gear onto our bikes or into the car, we never regret it.
6 tips for family-friendly outdoor adventure
1. Just Do It – Your Brain Will Thank You
Our entire family loves being outdoors, so that helps. But our interest in getting outside is more than pure hedonism: it’s good for our mind, body and soul and we can feel it instinctively.
Researchers from the University of Utah and the University of Kansas shed some light on this in 2012 when they studied the effects of four days of nature immersion. They found that after being totally disconnected from media and tech for four days, over half of the study participants showed a marked increase in problem-solving skills and creative thinking.
I love how when we are outdoors, our kids get into a whole new zone of imaginative play. They act out scenarios, they build cool stuff, they test the limits of what they believe is possible. The same goes for us adults. We breathe a little easier, feel less stressed, and are generally happier.
2. Less Is More
We do go on extended family trips and organize big adventures, but most weekends don’t look like that. Instead, we take along the basics – snacks, extra diapers, water – and hit the road. Adventure isn’t only found in far-flung destinations. If we bring an attitude of curiosity and exploration, we are bound to discover new and exciting things wherever we go.
So keep the plan simple – you’re more likely to actually do it that way.
3. Do What You Love
I’ve learned over the years that certain things are not my “thing”. I like road cycling and commuting on my bicycle, but feel like I’m going to die mountain biking. My husband and I enjoy tent camping far more than RV camping. These preferences are as unique to us as our DNA.
Naturally, there are things that we enjoy doing as a family more than others. We love short cycling adventures and reasonable-length hikes. We love exploring new towns and wacky sights. These things are “us” – the experiences that bring us joy and energize us. But they might not be what another family loves.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
Kids need parents who are fully alive. Children are like sponges – they pick up on our energy, our body language, and the things we love and hate. How amazing, then, to share the things we really enjoy with our kids. Get to know what you love and then go and do that together.
4. Stick Within Your Limits
We’ve learned this the hard way, unfortunately. It’s taken us years to know our limits and to be at peace with them. We know now that hundreds of kilometres of biking with our kids will simply not go over well and everyone will suffer. So, we organize accordingly.
Challenge ourselves? Absolutely. Torture ourselves needlessly? No thank you. This will look different for every family and what one family loves to do and is able to do will look different from others. And all those adventures that are geared for older kids? They can go on your adventure bucket list for later.
5. Start An Adventure Bucket List
On the wall beside our family calendar, we’ve tacked up our “Adventure List”. When we hear of a new place to go, a new trail to explore or a new experience we can have, it goes on the list. The list is a source of inspiration for fun, adventurous family outings. Some things on the list are very local, others further afield, and we also make note of which ones are good with kids and which we’ll do when we have a babysitter.
This list is not Pinterest-worthy. It’s on a scrap piece of paper and our handwriting is barely legible. It isn’t pretty, but it is functional and it has consistently gotten us out of the house to explore over the past three years in the Okanagan.
6. Invite Others For The Ride
We’ve found that when we invite friends or family along on an adventure, it is always better. Our kids are far more motivated by their peers and we gather new stories with friends that we share together long after the adventure is over.
What are your tips and tricks tips for family-friendly outdoor adventure? How do you enjoy the great outdoors to its fullest with your family?