Spring is HERE, and if you’re an outdoorsy person, then your bones are vibrating with excitement to get out there -the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, the trail at your feet.
Oh SNAP! Umm, kids—you have those now, and you absolutely want them to experience these outdoor adventures that you love so much!
When you’re taking kids on outdoor adventures (especially when they are still young), there are some things that can make the entire experience much more successful and enjoyable. Do it right, and you’re set up for years of outdoor fun as a family. Do it wrong, and you’re going to have to beg and bribe to coax them back out. Having done both myself as an outdoor junkie with my own kids, I’ve learned some valuable lessons which I’d like to share with you.
Tips to Help Your Kids Enjoy the Outdoors
#1 – Give yourself time.
It will take a lot more time than you expect to do everything – from planning to packing to traveling, dressing and eating, cooking, playing, resting and cleaning.
One of the biggest sources of frustration is trying to to do too much with limited time.
It is better to do less and maximize fun. The more self-sufficient your kids get, and the more experience you have as a family, the more you’ll be able to do. Start small.
#2 – Be flexible; Manage Expectations.
Just because you love it, doesn’t mean your children will—the first time, the 10th time, or maybe ever.
At the beginning, you’re just introducing them to different outdoor experiences. It’s like introducing baby food—a bite or two of something new, over and over again. Some things they’ll love, some things will be hit or miss, and some will never click. Every kid is different.
#3 – Plan for plenty of food, water & breaks
You will need a lot of all of three. Have snacks & drinks in abundance and distribute them in regular intervals. “Hangry” is real, and active kids are burning lots of calories. Kids are also much more prone to dehydration than adults.
**Remember – babies under 6 months should only be drinking breast milk or formula. Toddlers & older children will need regular fluids and electrolytes depending on how much they are sweating.
Incorporate frequent rest breaks with time to eat, drink and go to the bathroom. If your kids still nap, try to stick to their routine as close as possible to maximize happiness.
#4 – Be prepared.
What you carry will depend on where you’re going, how long you’ll be out, and what your activity will be. Many of you will be familiar with The 10 Essentials. Here’s my pared-down version with some kid-specific additions:
First Aid Kit
Pack more band-aids than you usually pack. Band-aids can go a long way with kids, even when the injury is minuscule. They can make that tiny scratch go from meltdown to happy camper in seconds. Make sure you pack your own medications and kid-friendly versions (children’s Tylenol, ibuprofen, Benadryl).
If anyone in your family needs an Epipen, make sure you take it on every outing. (You should not leave Epipens in a hot or very cold car, as this can decrease it’s effectiveness). I also include sun & insect protection.
- Insect Repellent & DEET | Insect Bite and Repellent Safety Tips , American Academy of Pediatrics
- Sunscreen & Sun Safety for Infants & Children | Sun Safety and Protection Tips, American Academy of Pediatrics
- How To Remove a Tick | Tick Removal, CDC
- Leave No Trace Principles | The Leave No Trace Seven Principles, Center for Outdoor Ethics
Make sure you have a charged phone, or some other way of calling for help. If you are going to be outside of cell service, you should plan ahead for how you will communicate. There are numerous options that don’t always require spending a lot of money.
Don’t rely entirely on your phone or car for navigation. You should be familiar with where you’re going. Consider having a printed map, and if you are going to be in the backcountry, you should bring (and know how to use) a compass.
Pack some way of protecting your family from the elements. This will vary greatly depending on your activity (tarps, tents, etc.) Bright materials are preferable, as they can also help serve as a signal in case you become lost.
You should carry a light source. Flashlights & headlamps for each adult and any children old enough to carry one.
Also consider taking a knife, extra water, baby formula, food, clothes, and diapers.
It’s a Journey; Not a Destination
Outdoor adventures with children are not the same as doing them by yourself or with your friends. It does take more planning, more time, and more patience, but it is absolutely worthwhile seeing your children become passionate about the outdoors too.
Putting that effort in now will bring you both a lifetime of shared outdoor fun, which is priceless. Teach your kids the principles of Leave No Trace now, so they can get a jump start on becoming advocates and stewards of the earth for future generations!
About Jennifer Vick, MD
Dr. Jennifer Vick is a pediatric hospitalist and nephrologist at WakeMed. Dr. Vick is board certified in general pediatrics and board certified pediatric nephrology. She also has additional experience in wilderness medicine and is a certified wilderness EMT (WEMT).