Author Elizabeth Rusch knows her stuff when it comes to sharing the outdoors with her children. So much so, she and her teen Izzi co-wrote the upcoming children’s book, A Search for the Northern Lights. You can pre-order their book now – available April, 14th! In honor of her upcoming children’s book, we asked Elizabeth to share her 7 best tips to get kids excited about being the outdoors. Though we love all the expert advice she gives…bringing a trail treat just might be our favorite! Read on to get her 7 top tips on getting kids out in nature.
I have always loved the outdoors and wanted to share outdoor experiences with my two children. By the time my teen Izzi and I co-wrote our book A Search for the Northern Lights, spending time outdoors was like second nature to us both. But many of the things we did during our search for the aurora were techniques that my husband and I have used for years to make exploring the outdoors fun for children. Here are 7 tips to get your kids involved in the outdoors.
1. Create an Exciting Goal
As adults we understand the sheer joy of just walking in the woods, but your children may not (at least not right away). Instead of suggesting just going for a winter walk, suggest an icicle hunt up a trail with a frozen creek. Search for birds or wild flowers. Your kids will find climbing a mountain (even a small one) with a view is more rewarding than wandering through the woods. Hiking into an alpine lake or river where they can wade or even swim will be a fun adventure that kids will want to repeat. So look for short excursions with big payoffs. As your kids get older you can do longer and more ambitious trips, just keep it fun with a big payoff.
2. Offer Treats
OK, I know you’re not supposed to bribe children, but I love a good candy bar and salty Goldfish crackers on the trail and so I don’t squelch that urge when I’m with my kids on an outdoor adventure. I’ve been stopping for trail treats on the way to the woods for so long that even my husband and teenagers expect to load the backpack with sweet treats and snacks we don’t normally keep stocked at home. (A friend takes this even farther with young kids, hiking ahead and placing gummy bears along the way for the kids to find. I love that idea cause it merges tip one and tip two!)
3. Pack Everything For Them
My teens carry their own backpacks now, but for years my husband and I crammed ours with everything our kids might need to stay comfortable outdoors. From extra layers, extra gloves and mittens (for when theirs get muddy or wet), to a dry change of clothes, first aid, plenty of food and water, you want your kids to be comfortable in the outdoors. If they are cold or wet or hungry or thirsty they may revolt against the whole idea. So think ahead and be prepared.
4. Incorporate Games
I can usually tell when my kids are getting tired or bored on a hike. When this happens, it’s the perfect time to play games such as: “We went for a hike and I brought an ALLIGATOR.” Then the next person repeats that line and adds something that starts with the letter B, all the way through the alphabet. Try an impromptu race to the nearest tree. Bring a pack of cards to play in meadow at lunch time. Finding ways to incorporate other activities within a hike and change your kid’s perspective on the outdoors tenfold.
5. Invite Friends
Encourage your kids to invite their friends into the outdoors. Nothing will turn a reluctant hiker into a chipper excited explorer like bringing along one of their friends. If you do, you’ll find them racing up the trail, stopping to build dams in creeks, jumping out from behind rocks to scare each other. The outdoors can be the best play date ever!
6. Take Time to Admire the Wildlife
Kids love animals. So if you see a cute bird or chipmunk or squirrel, stop and watch it. Deer and raccoons and other furry mammals captivate kids. And once they start looking, kids are great at finding animals (see tip one). Some kids love taking pictures of animals, so let them use your phone (or theirs) to capture that mamma duck swimming along with her chicks.
7. Keep Them Wanting More
Instead of pushing your kids to do more and more in the outdoors do less and do it more slowly, enjoying it more. Instead of ending an excursion exhausted and cranky, your kids will look forward to the next one. In fact, at the end ask your kids what they liked about the trip and get them excited about other similar adventures you might take.
Lastly, remember to just HAVE FUN! The time you spend in the outdoors with your children could be the best times of your life.