Immersing children in the outdoors: Part 1

The smell of a canvas hammock in a 1968 Volkswagen pop-top camper.

The memory of peaking through the slats of a pier in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Camping in the dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Hiking to the top of Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The evolution of a young explorer perhaps?  Let’s find out!

“Creeking Workshop” at the  Columbus Metro Parks.

“Creeking Workshop” at the Columbus Metro Parks.

One of the most common questions I get asked, “How do you get your son so excited about being outside?”  I wish there was a secret potion.  Some far reaching elixir of the outdoors.  Nevertheless, the one common factor in his love of the outdoors…my wife and I were very deliberate from the word go.  We knew we wanted to expose our son to as much of the great outdoors as possible.  It took effort, it was exhausting at times, but it was totally worth every single minute.  This is where we began our journey.

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Living outside Columbus, Ohio, you may get the feeling the options are limited, especially with younger children.  Maybe so but my wife and I were deliberate in finding activities outside.  Our first stop ended up being the Metro Park system of Central Ohio.  Go to the front page of their website and you see “…more than 230 miles of trails and over 27,700 acres of land in seven Central Ohio counties.”  This was the easy entry point into the outdoors with our son with thoughts of the future.

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My wife and I religiously poured over the schedules for each park.  What activity was happening where and when?  Would our son find it interesting?  Was it age appropriate?   We were deliberate in planning our “adventures” and made it a special experience every visit.

We ended up taking him to a myriad of workshops hosted by the park naturalists and volunteers.  Workshops like, “Preschoolers:  Good Night Nature”, “Wild Wednesday: Amphibians” and “Owl Hike” were all on our radar.  Literally hundreds of options at our fingertips.  Creeking, exploring vernal pools, winter hiking, bat watching, canoeing – he become engaged in the outdoors, got plenty dirty and all before the age of six.  He wanted to go to the parks and explore!  He asked for the next opportunity.  

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Don’t get me wrong, we live in the world of electronica and he enjoys his shows and games like most kids, but…and it’s a big but…if you get excited about getting outdoors and exploring, I’m sure your child will do the same.   

Frog/Wetlands Workshop.

Frog/Wetlands Workshop.

My secret to our success?  Be deliberate and get excited!  There is no one size fits all rule book.  You make your own rule book.  Over the next year, I hope to offer some tips from our outdoor adventures – the successes and the failures of traveling with young children.  These experiences will include day trips to a variety of State Parks, further exploration of the Metro Park system, trips to “Grandpop’s” mountain, a camping trip to the Outer Banks, a fourth-grade field trip to Cuyahoga National Park and two different cross-county road trips – yes, this is a bit crazy - which included some of our favorite National Parks.  There is a wealth of information I will be happy to share with you all.  

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Oh….in case you were wondering about those four statements at the beginning of the post?  They are some of my experiences as a child and the catalyst for my love of the outdoors.  Makes me thankful as an adult my parents put such an emphasis on travel and the outdoors when I was a child.

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Do you have kids and have you worked on getting them in the outdoors more? Feel free to share your stories in the comments with us!

Because Adventure Travel Feeds the Soul,
Jason M and the Hashtag 59 Team