Adventures with children

Adventures with children

Much like starting a proper job, people often say having children is a major obstacle to regular adventure. That might be true if you plan on spending every weekend ice-climbing in the Himalayas (although I’m sure are are those who make this work). But in other ways, having children has a positive impact on getting you outside more. You just need to realign your expectations of what’s possible to make having adventures with children a reality.

Why should I bother?

Kids love being outside. We are all born with an innate connection to nature. It’s good for us. Modern comforts and conveniences quickly break that link and make us unhappy. It’s no coincidence the outdoors are now prescribed to help those with anxiety and depression.

It’s also good for the planet. By teaching children to enjoy the natural world, they gain a deeper respect and understanding of what we stand to lose if we continue to exploit it.

It’s a myth that children need plastic tat to play with. If you aren’t convinced, just look at how much fun they will have with a stick, some shells and a feather.

I get that it’s easy to stick them in front of the telly while you get on with your jobs and enjoy some downtime. But even the most ardent Peppa Pig fan will get tetchy before long. Being cooped up indoors just leads to grumpy behaviour. Kiddies are often easier to manage outside, where they are distracted by muddy puddles of their own.

Plus the family will be fitter and healthier, have more to talk about, sleep better and be more confident. All this just from making the effort to put on a pair of wellies and mess about in the woods.

Phases of adventures with children

I reckon there are four phases of having adventures with children:

Baby phase

Caring for a newborn is hard work. You’ll feel like a zombie for most of the time and getting out the front door is a challenge in itself. But the benefits of half an hour of fresh air are immeasurable.

And the best part – babies have no say in the matter! OK they’ll probably wail but they are going to do that anyway – whether you are inside or outside, so you may as well get off the beaten track.

Invest in a decent carrier, some warm clothes and loads of nappies and take your bundle of joy on a long walk. Start off with a sling which you’ll wear on your front and, as your baby becomes more robust, move them into a rucksack-type carrier.

I like the LittleLife Cross Country S3, which is comfortable and has storage space for food, water and other essentials. You’ll feel like an explorer carrying a huge pack so it’s good training for your next backpacking adventure.

Toddler phase

Arguably the most obstructive phase. Little ones become too heavy and wriggly to carry any great distance but their tiny legs aren’t going to get them to the top of Scafell Pike any time soon. Instead of focusing on grand adventures, aim simply to inspire them with nature. Toddlers are built for getting muddy, collecting stones and putting disgusting things in their pockets.

You want them to associate being outside with fun times. Yes it takes effort, and you need to remember the three golden rules of staying warm, dry and well-fed to minimise tantrums. But make that effort now and you’ll reap the rewards in phase 3…

Early school years phase

Start introducing longer walks. Do your research and include something exciting en route – a stream to play in, some castle ruins, or a miniature railway are all winners. Bribes, in the form of Jelly Babies, are priceless. And make sure they are warm enough to prevent grumbles.

This phase can give you some motivation to get outside too. On a recent trip to the coast, it was cold and windy outside, I’d had a big lunch and was just about to kick back and read my book. But I had little people badgering me to go to the beach. The sea was wild, the wind was howling, we got covered in sand and stayed outside all afternoon, smiles plastered across our faces.

Kids (and grown-ups) love being outside. The hardest part is getting out the door.

Pre-teens and teens phase

Assuming you’ve invested wisely in the early years, you’ll have kids who are fitter than you, more enthusiastic than you, and are so connected with the outdoors they’ll be begging you to take them on all sorts of outdoor adventures.

Gulp…

But teenage hormones have other ideas, and you may be lucky if your little cherub even acknowledges you as they play Snake (or whatever it is they do on their smartphones these days) when you dare suggest a day in the hills.

It’s about letting your children discover what interests them before teenagerdom sets in. Try out new activities together. Rock climbing, sailing, geo-caching, camping. If they show an interest in something, let them pursue it without being pushy. Once they find their passion, you’ve hit the jackpot for a lifetime of adventure.

Ideas for activities

Struggling for ideas of things to do outside? Give one of these tried and tested favourites a go:

Camping

I’ll never forget the look of excitement on my kids’ faces when we first went to the camping shop to look at tents. It was the ultimate den shop and introduced us to a summer of adventures.

The camping industry is huge right now with options to suit all tastes (and budgets). So even if your memories of camping include learning knots and being cold and wet, you might be surprised at how luxurious it’s become.

Check out my guide to creating the perfect checklist for family camping.

Bike rides

‘Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike’ – John F Kennedy

I completely agree and would encourage anyone looking for more joy in their lives to ride a bike. Unfortunately, cycling with children can be a stressful experience on today’s busy roads. There is hope, in the form of dedicated cycle paths maintained by Sustrans and quieter country lanes. Stick to these and you’ll have some car-free fun.

I believe the world would be a better place if more of us rode bikes.

Short walks

Some of my fondest memories from childhood stem from being dragged up mountains in the Lake District. I probably whinged about being cold and tired at the time but boy am I thankful I did it.

Start small. Keep them interesting. Remember the golden rules (warm, dry, well-fed). And do it regularly.

Connecting with nature

The best things in life are free, right? You don’t need to spend a fortune on days out to entertain your kids. Sometimes all it takes is an outdoor space where you can let your children’s imaginations run wild. Build dens in the woods. Make sandcastles on the beach. Play pooh sticks. Forage for blackberries. Have a picnic. Just get out there and make some memories.

Obstacle to adventure?

Before having kids, I thought success meant sitting in an office all week, spending weekends dreading having to return on Monday morning and generally being miserable. I’d say the modern corporate mentality is generally the biggest obstacle to adventure.

But change is afoot. The next generation isn’t necessarily motivated by climbing the greasy corporate ladder. Their working lives are likely to be longer and they demand a balance. The dreams of job security and retiring at 50 are beyond the reach of many if you don’t make sacrifices elsewhere. Couple this with an increasing environmental conscience and the next generation is becoming connected with nature once more.

So far from being an obstacle to adventure, I think children remind us of the simple pleasures getting outside can bring. That can only encourage us grown ups to do the same.

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