Want to raise kids who love the outdoors? We offer up our experience in five easy steps that we think will engender a lifelong passion for playing in and caring about wild places.
Everyone who has kids loves to tell you that your life will “change forever, bro” when you have them. That is certainly true. It’s also a very good thing, especially when those little people make the jump from you hauling them around in backpacks and trailers to coming along aside you on outdoor adventures. There’s no one way to do parenting correctly. My wife and I have always tried our best to expose our kids to the mystery and play of the wild without pushing them. We want them to love the same things we love, the things that made us want to raise them here, not think of them as annoying chores their parents make them do. With that principle in mind, here’s some insight into our journey together into the outdoors.
Kids love car camping. It’s low-pressure: They explore the woods at their own pace, they cruise around on thier bikes and meet other kids, they read, they help cook. The pace slows down, and they have more time to simply be kids. Oh, and parents enjoy it, too. You get off the radar, off the devices and spend some time either getting silly and playing games with them (cribbage is ideal for those math skills) or you pull up a chair, a book and your favorite beverage while they do their own thing. There are countless spots to car camp in Colorado, but one of our favorites is Olive Ridge (1.usa.gov/1XovxZl) on the Peak to Peak highway. You can usually find a spot here, and it’s close to the trails in Rocky Mountain Naitonal Park’s Wild Basin.
All praise the Strider and other balance bikes. They take the pain out of learning the joy of two wheels. There’s something so basic about getting kids on a bike, and you only multiply that stoke when you join them for a ride to the farmer’s market or just to the store. We are lucky to live in Boulder where we can spend afternoons and take camps at the world-class Valmont Bike Park (valmontbikepark.org). We have gotten them out on singletrack, too, and especially enjoy the seven-mile, confidence-building Hippy House loop at Phil’s World in Cortez. Plus, there are 60 miles of trails here total, so parents can sneak in a grownup ride.
Most likely, your child will be a better climber than you. There’s an incredible infrastructure in place as well as training that did not exist when most of us were kids. We have found programs that got our kids climbing from the get-go at the Boulder Rock Club (boulderrockclub.com) and then put them out learning real skills on the rock with the gym’s partner, the Colorado Mountain School (coloradomountainschool.com). During the summer and school breaks, ABC Kids Climbing (abckidsboulder.com) offers outstanding programs, too.
You are not alone. Other parents are always your best support group. You can access even more information on how to get your kids loving the outdoors in two of our favorite guidebooks by EO contributors: The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson (maddogmom.com), and Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids (recreatingwithkids.com) by Eugene Buchanan. Check out both.
It doesn’t always have to be a contest, a camp, a class, an organized endeavor. The best way to get kids to enjoy the outdoors more often than not is simply to take the time to slow down and breathe it in. Oh, that works for parents, too.