The key to successful outdoor adventures with young children is planning. A little effort can go a long ways.
When I told my aunt about my family’s recent camping trip to Manitoulin Island, she said, “These experiences will have a lasting effect on your kids. It’s so important to teach them to love the outdoors because that love will stay with them forever.”
While I agree completely with what she said and strive to spend as much time outdoors with my kids as possible, it’s often easier said than done. Kids, while being full of curiosity and energy, are complex little beings who can be very demanding at times. They have needs that are irrational and ridiculous at times, and can tire quickly.
I’ve learned it’s important to be prepared. With a bit of planning, an outdoor excursion can become a whole lot more enjoyable for everyone. Here are some tips for getting outside and enjoying the warmer weather with little ones.
Do your research.
Search your own neighborhood and region for interesting places to visit. Often the less famous destinations are much nicer to visit because they’re not so busy. Ask for recommendations from fellow family adventurers and seek out those off-the-beaten-track places that feel like a true discovery. Collect brochures for fun local activities and keep them in a reference file for days when you're looking for something to do.
Take some time to figure out where you’re going ahead of time and find out the details. Is there parking? An entry fee? How accessible is it? How long does it take to get there and do the activity? Is it busy at this hour or time of year?
Nothing ruins an adventure faster than a wet, cold, miserable child. Having the proper clothing and footwear makes the difference between a successful or disastrous outing, so give it some thought ahead of time. Pack whatever you could need, so as not to be caught unawares. Take towels, bathing suits, sunscreen, hats, bug spray, a change of clothes for everyone, extra diapers, baby carrier, picnic blanket, toilet paper, etc. and toss it all in a bag in the trunk or in a bicycle pannier – just so it’s there.
Always take food and water.
A picnic lunch gives a lovely focal point to an outing and provides additional entertainment for kids. You can keep it simple by serving pre-made food, or make it extra fun by taking along a camp stove to cook lunch. Most importantly, don’t run out of water! Take as many water bottles as you can.
Talk to your child.
You are a fount of knowledge compared to what your kids know, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly gifted naturalist. Even the smallest details are worth sharing, however. Mention tree types and identify leaves; point out insects, butterflies, and animal tracks; share aloud any observations you make. Kids absorb these details and retain them.
Follow your child.
Many kids will instinctively take the lead outdoors. Let them do it. Follow them, tuning in to what they find interesting, rather than what you want them to do. Go at their speed (if you can stand all the constant stops!) and let them take in the surroundings at their own pace.