How to have more adventures with your kids
Successfully adventuring with kids requires some planning, creativity, a change in mindset, a sense of humor, and snacks.
Lots and lots of snacks.
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The types of adventures you can do with your kids in tow will be different, but they can still be rewarding. And more importantly, you are growing a new adventurer, sharing the stoke for this lifestyle with your kids, and teaching them about nature, working hard, and overcoming challenges.
It’s not always going to be pretty. There will be tears. There will be whining. You will end up carrying more gear and small children for long distances. But how is that any different than taking a toddler to Target on a Saturday morning? (Why did I think this was a good idea??)
So here is some advice from real adventure moms on how to successfully adventure with your kids.
”Babies can be outside, toddlers can walk a bit and preschoolers can ride beside you.” Karen DeWolfe, www.momthletes.com
A lot of us put perceived limitations on ourselves and our children, especially when they are young. Sure, special care needs to be taken to make sure children are safe, especially very young infants, but they are not glass figurines.
Everyone needs to find their own comfort zone, but take note on what may be false limitations you are placing on yourself. Could you go for a hike with your infant? Could your toddler bike a mile or so?
When my daughter was 6 weeks, or even 6 months old, I could not imagine taking her camping. But I know people do it. And you know what — it’s probably fun. I know I was in survival mode in the beginning — barely sleeping, always nursing, and so I couldn’t imagine planning a large camping trip. But a daily walk was possible, and that time outside meant everything to me.
“If you begin adventuring with your kids from the get go they won’t know any other way.” Brigid Pickett @trail.bird.mama
Starting kids young means that they won’t know anything else. My daughter has been on a boat since she was born. As a result, her sea legs are strong. She isn’t afraid of the water and doesn’t think its weird to be near it. Make whatever you want to spend your time doing the new normal for your kid.
To accomplish point number one it is usually critical to adopt the “just do it” mindset.
When my daughter was very young I wanted to take her for hikes, yet some mornings it seemed like a huge ordeal. I remember one morning I took the advice from the Outdoor Mom Academy to “Just do it”.
I didn’t over think it that morning. I grabbed my daughter – still in her pajamas – and put her in the car. We “hiked” (she was in the stroller), until she demanded to get out. It was only a half mile or so. But that morning it was awesome to just sit in the redwood forest and soak it in while she played in the dirt.
Just do it was popular advice from nearly every mom I asked.
“Just get out and do it! No reason to make a big fuss about it or over complicate things. Literally just go and have fun with or without kids. Throw the mom guilt out and just do it!” — Jackie Trejo, @jackietrejo_
“Just make it happen. It’ll be a challenge somedays, but the more times you do it the easier it will get”. Brigid Pickett @trail.bird.mama
“Don’t overthink it. It’s a skill, and like any skill, it takes time to learn for both you and the kids.”
—Tess Ley @tiny_green_hands
The first time you want to go camping, you will forget something. The second time, you will forget something different. But if you keep doing it, you will develop a rhythm and a routine and it will be easier each time. You will learn what gear you do and don’t need. Your kids will learn the routine too.
Each trip or outing is not going to be perfect. Or even enjoyable. Somedays they will cry, not want to participate or keep running off. But hell, that stuff happens if you were to stay at home too. So don’t let it stop you. Just know that other days you will get to show your daughter ants or see your son hike up a mountain for the first time.
Let’s be real – you are not going to have the same adventures with your kids as you did single. Don’t try to force that. If you do, you will be dragging your child along on an adventure they don’t want. They will be miserable and most likely make you miserable too.
But adventuring with kids can still be rewarding. One of the easiest ways to incorporate adventure into your life with young kids is to create adventure out of everyday experiences.
“When kids are little an adventure can be small, like walking/running to the grocery store and getting what you need and going home.” — Karen DeWolfe, www.momthletes.com
With the right mindset, anything can be an adventure. Look at the weeds growing on your street. Check out bugs. Look for planes. Demonstrate curiosity to your kids. Remember adventure doesn’t always need to be conquering the highest peak – it’s about doing new things. Everything your kid does is a new experience.
Adventure outings with kids requires us to slow down. It can take an hour to hike one mile. As adult adventurers, we are often focused on getting to where we are going (fastest route from point A to point B).
Kids don’t operate that way.
Toddlers don’t walk in straight lines. Nor do they know your “plan”. So take a breath and enjoy their natural curiosity.
Isn’t that one of the reasons you are out there with them in the first place? To stoke their internal curiosity and enjoyment of the outdoors? So forget about reaching the destination and go dig in the dirt with your kids.
Instead of a multi-day backpacking trip, take your kids on a day hike. Karen DeWolfe suggests:
“Day hikes: Take M&Ms and hide them in the forest and tell the kids there are M&M fairies that hide candy on the trail. Plan for about an hour per mile if kids are walking. Relax and have fun and look at the world for the first time again.“
Avoid the crowds and hoopla of some of the larger “sexy” adventure destinations, and take advantage of smaller, low-key places.
Are you a skier? Stephanie Vidergar reminds us to bypass the larger (and expensive) resorts and checkout some of the small resorts. Your kids don’t need more than one chairlift to have an awesome time.
By this I mean don’t bite off more than you can chew. I am guilty of this, even in our regular day to day activities.
Know that kids often get tired, hungry, and typically cranky at a certain time of day. Plan accordingly. Otherwise, if you decide to go for the more ambitious 7-mile trail run with your 2-year-old, just know that they WILL have a meltdown at the absolute furthest point from your car. It’s almost certain.
“Plan your time wisely and account for snacks, meals, and that grumpy hour of the day.” — Brigid Pickett @trail.bird.mama
Know that your kids are experiencing their own challenges and that sometimes that is hard. There will be tears, and that might be okay. Adjust your mindset to consider these as opportunities of growth and learning, and guide your kids through it — instead of getting frustrated and/or giving up.
“I still cry from time to time when things get hard. It is ok for our kids to hit the wall. They are stretching their limits too. Generally this will make them stronger, not break them down. Try to be kind and give them the tools they need to get through the hardship.” — Karen DeWolfe, www.momthletes.com
“If you want to get your kids into adventuring, realize it’s 20% amazing, 20% okay and 60% hard work/tantrum managing.” — Tess Ley, @tiny_green_hands
“Really, good gear and plenty of snacks, can make anything a successful adventure.”
— Brinn Bagley Chipman @brinnelizabeth
You know how miserable you are when you are hiking with blisters or are camping in the cold?
Well, you can overcome this uncomfortableness because you know the ultimate goal. Your kids don’t. If kids are uncomfortable, they are miserable and they WILL. LET. YOU. KNOW.
I learned this lesson even before I had my own kid.
As a ski instructor for small children, I cannot tell you how many times parents would drop off their 5-year-old at ski school in a blizzard without a decent jacket, hat, or gloves.
I always assumed these parents were sitting in the bar all afternoon having a hot toddy, while I and their children were outside freezing.
I would give my gloves to Billy, my jacket to Sarah, and my hat to little Tommy – before they all turned into popsicles.
Moral of the story – dress your kids appropriately. Comfy shoes. Durable socks. A good jacket.
Don’t forget to check the weather and be prepared for where you are going. Bring extra layers for when your kids get wet/hot/cold/covered in mud. Bring sun protection and hydration. A good pack to carry them or your gear is key. They and YOU will be much happier when appropriately prepared.
- healthy food/snacks
- sunscreen and hat
- first aid kit
- kid carrying device, if necessary.
- extra clothes/layers for weather and/or spills, falls, etc.
- a few toys (keep to a minimum!)
- quality pack
“We like to pack light, but make sure you have layers for unexpected weather. Never over pack toys, the kids hardly play with them and the parents have to carry that shit around.” — Jackie Trejo, @jackietrejo_
Don’t overdo it and bring everything in your house. You will be the one carrying it all. For certain activities, you can use your car as a base camp and stock extra supplies you may need there. This will get easier with practice as you discover what you do and don’t use.
All the moms I surveyed said, “Bring snacks!” Some of them said it multiple times.
“Bring all the snacks, this is your best friend! Having a variety of your kids favorite snacks is key!” —Jackie Trejo, @jackietrejo_
Use trail snacks to combat hangriness, to motivate your kids to get back to the car during a long hike, or hide them around the trail and make a game out of hunting for snacks.
Some of my favorite trail/adventure ready kid snacks are Figgy Pops.
Schedule your trips to take advantage of nap time for long car rides. Nobody wants to deal with a cranky kid in the car, only to have them need to nap when you arrive at your destination. If possible, try to time your adventures so that the kids can sleep during the car ride there or back. Do an early morning hike, then plunk tired kids into the car for the drive home.
Got a long drive to a special destination? Maybe it’s worth it to drive late at night while the kids sleep and traffic is lighter.
Teaming up with other families for joint adventures can be fun and helpful. There are more adult hands on deck and the kids entertain each other. Plus, you can get some adult conversation and a partner in crime. Grab a friend with kids and suggest you team up for a group hike!
For some types of adventures, it helps if the adults outnumber the kids. Rock climbing mom, Jackie Trejo, suggests “traveling in packs of 3 adults to 1 child is kind of needed while climbing. The 3 to 1 ratio works.” Smaller ratios of 2-to-1 or even 1-on-1 can work when the kids get older.
Have an idea of your ideal outing, and then think of a less ambitious version if your kids aren’t up for it or the weather changes. This prevents you and everyone else from having a meltdown in the case that things go wrong.
The easiest way to plan a successful adventure with kids is to make it a “Kid’s Adventure”. What does that mean? Grab this amazing idea from Karen DeWolfe who plans a special day once a week with her kids during the summer. Each child invites a friend or two and they all set off on a kid-directed day of fun.
“I took them on bike rides around town with a stop to a candy store and probably a swimming hole. Every kid would get $2 to spend and I would run with my Chariot and all their stuff and push the smallest kids when they got tired. These were some epic days all about kids and what they love, and going off rope swings and getting hot and tired. It was amazing.”—Karen DeWolfe, www.momthletes.com
“Games are your biggest friend on the trail. Being creative with them keeps them engaged and their legs moving.” — Lauren Sargent @freckled_wanderer
A few games perfect for the outdoors include:
- I spy
- Hide and Seek
- Scavenger hunt: (make a list of things you will likely see on your adventure such as bugs, rocks, certain trees, etc. Then look for the items on the list. (There are many pre-made lists on Pinterest.)
- Alphabet game: Looking for things that start with A, then B, then C…
- Sing songs
Remember that this isn’t always going to be easy. You are doing a great job and you don’t always have to be perfect.
A gentle reminder from Jackie Trejo that it’s okay to also take some time for yourself.
“Sometimes it’s okay to give your kid the tablet to let mom and dad focus on the climb… You are not a bad parent if you let the tablet entertain your kid for a little while. Mom and dad need time to work out and climb too, sometimes nature isn’t enough of a distraction and that is okay.”
All the mamas I surveyed said adventuring with kids gets easier as your kids get older. Although I think as with most things with parenting—it probably just gets different. By that I mean, some things are easier and some things are harder.
For example, when kids are little you can easily carry them, but they have difficult and unpredictable schedules. When kids are older, they have their own opinions and can physically resist you when they don’t want to do something (hello, toddler strength!), but they have more predictable schedules and can enjoy outdoor activities more. Eventually, they will be planning their own adventures or leaving you behind so they can adventure with their friends.
So take advantage of whatever stage you are in and enjoy it. For better or worse, it will soon pass.