Hiking and Camping with Kids: Getting Kids who are Reluctant into the Outdoors

I strive to offer my daughter a balance between the technology that rules our lives in 2018 and the natural world. I want to nurture every ounce of her enthusiasm for the outdoors for as long as possible and I also want to give her time for other interests like video games. It is my hope that the outdoors, whether it is in the bush camping, on a shore fishing, running on a trail, or riding her bike is a life long love.

I really enjoy hiking with my daughter. I feel fortunate that she is eager to explore and learn in nature. We are able to spend a good amount of time outdoors with minimal complaining before “how much longer?” and “are we there yet?” and “this is boring!” sets in.

I came across a Nature Connection Pyramid while researching how to get reluctant kids into the outdoors. Friends have reached out to me to ask questions about hiking and camping with kids and a couple have said that their kids are hesitant to want to go into the great wide-open outdoors, beyond a playground or day at the beach. The pyramid is actually a fascinating way to balance time spent outdoors along with all the other endeavours that we want to take part in.

Credit: Nature Kids Institute

Let’s face it, we live in a world with a lot of luxuries that we have become very comfortable with. Falling into my king-sized bed with my California king-sized goose-down duvet and 800 thread count sheets after my Appalachian Trail hike felt like heaven compared to sleeping on an inflatable pad. And let’s not forget how my group stood around charging electronics in a bathroom at a state park instead of arriving and setting up camp before dark. We delight in our pleasures of modern day society and our kids are growing up with a lot of indulgences too.

So how do we as nature loving folk get our kids to want to spend time in the outdoors too?

Make what is important to you a priority. I literally have a rough outline of activities posted months in advance on my families shared calendar. Everything else that needs or wants to be done is planned around it. Back in April I decided that the weekend of October 20th will be my last overnight hiking trip of 2018 and I have it noted on various days that the day is dedicated to hiking.

With the outdoors being very weather dependent, I accept that there needs to be flexibility in the plans, especially when bringing my daughter out. I also accept that plans may change due to something else coming up on the weekend that my daughter wants to attend like a birthday party. Being outside is a priority to me and I treat it as such. Just as we need to go grocery shopping, we need to spend time outdoors.

Talk with your family about what you want your camping and hiking experience to look like and plan together. Choose trails that have features that your kids will enjoy like a lake or a waterfall. We are slowly introducing historical monuments to our daughter but for the most part, she would rather climb on a giant rock than learn something significant about the area.

Having an actual physical goal to look forward to helps kids see the bigger picture rather than just dragging their feet on dirt for a couple of hours.

A friend recently told me that she thinks trekking poles would help her daughter take more of an interest in wanting to hike. My daughter thinks water bladders are the best things since sliced bread with their long, bendable straws. She loves the idea of drinking from a backpack and in time she will have her own to carry. I look forward to the day that she is old enough for her own pocket knife. I think anything outdoors gear related that gets kids excited about wanting to hike and camp is a great investment.

One of our favorite investments has been camp furniture for base camping. Our home is furnished with comfortable couches and beds so why should we compromise comfort in the outdoors. Yes, we are outside to “rough it” but a piece of junk camping chair that ends up in the garbage after a weekend should not be part of “roughing it”.

I purchased a hammock for my Appalachian Trail hike and I will never leave home for a hike or camping without it again. Comfortable camping furniture is a good morale booster, at least for my crew. Lean deep into relaxation and bring some comforts with you.

There are going to be a lot of things that will not go as planned when in the outdoors. Choose to spend your time with people who compliment your outdoor style and can go with the flow to keep morale high. Negative experiences will further discourage reluctant kids from wanting to participate again. Keep the group chill and all will be well in the end.

I am in favour of technology in moderation to enhance the overall experience while being outdoors. Just look at all the fisher-folk who spend thousands of dollars outfitting their boats with fish finders. We will sometimes bring our daughters tablet with us and place limits for when it can be used. Most often the tablet comes out first thing in the morning while I am waking up out of my grouchy momma bear with no coffee in me mood and at night if she wants to watch a show before falling asleep. Her and I are essentially doing the same thing if I am reading on my Kindle and she is on the Reading Rainbow app or if my husband is relaxing and playing a game on his phone and she is doing the same on her tablet.

We keep things fairly simple for campsite activities with card games, colouring, and a writing journal. I have seen kids bring a sketch book with them on a hike. I think whatever interests your kids have can be adjusted to trail and campsite with some creative thought and planning.

With a whole month left of summer, get the communication swirling and a jaunt into the outdoors planned. Follow the Nature Connection Pyramid above for some ideas and have fun!

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