A love of the great outdoors is one of the best gifts any parent can give their child. Not only will it give them an interest that could last a lifetime but loving the mountains and woods can also keep them healthy and active, and instill a sense of environmental responsibility in them. Here are five fun things you can do with your kids to help them enjoy the world away from the computer and the TV:
1. Picnics. Who doesn’t love a picnic? This is one activity that you can start while your kids are very young and adapt as they grow older. They don’t have to be super fit to begin with and nor do you. All you need is the nearest State Forest or National Park and a hamper full of goodies. If your kids are old enough to run around independently, make sure to bring a selection of Frisbees, soccer balls, and other outdoor toys.
2. Kayaking and canoeing.
With a qualified instructor or guide paddle sports are very safe. If there is a lake, a popular beach, or a slow rivers near you the chances are good that there will be a company offering day trips or afternoon sessions on it. They’ll provide everything you need including buoyancy aids (for everyone, not just less confident swimmers) to the boats themselves.
If you enjoy your first kayaking session and want to take it further, look for a local kayak and canoe club. Most cities have one even if they don’t have a major watercourse nearby, and these clubs often put on regular training sessions in nearby swimming pools. You and your kids can develop the skills you need to stay safe and have a great time on the water in a controlled environment and for very nominal costs.
3. Rock climbing.
You’ll definitely need the guidance of an instructor to start with, but a day’s rock climbing can be a tremendously exciting treat. Kids of all ages love the idea of an extreme sport and with the right instruction and equipment beginner climbing is another surprisingly safe sport.
It’s particularly good for those parents who have trouble getting their moody teenagers interested in family activities. Few teens can resist getting involved and kids as young as five can join in too.
4. Hiking. The secret to a good family hike is choosing the right route. Start out with short walks on level ground and work your way up as you and the kids gain confidence. Make sure to bring plenty to eat and drink (including a few sweet treats) to boost energy levels when they start to flag. It’s also helpful to pick routes with a goal at the end, like a lookout point or a waterfall. That way children are less likely to lose interest along the way.
5. Mountain biking. A relaxed Saturday morning bike ride is great for any family, but as the little ones get bigger it can be hard to keep them excited about cycling on well-known paths. If you can spice up your weekly (or even monthly) cycling routine with a visit to a mountain biking center they’ll stay keen and have something to work towards. Most MTB centers have very easy, scenic routes as well as adrenaline packed downhill obstacle courses so there are choices for the whole family.
Jess Spate was lucky enough to enjoy a childhood in the outdoors and is now a qualified climbing instructor, kayaker, and all-round mountain sports enthusiast. She writes for Appalachian Outdoors.