I was inspired to start my blog, Outdoors Mama, because I love to spend time outside with my boys, and I definitely see the benefits for them, not just in the moments we are outside, but infused all through our days and lives. When friends saw our Instagram photos of hiking or biking, they'd often say, "I'd love to do that with my kids more, but it looks so hard. I don't know how to get started." And that gave me my mission.
It's not always easy to pull everyone from screens and out into the open, but when I do, we almost all have a good time, and it's always worth it. While we're out I feel as if we have more space, the worries are not held in so tight to our bodies and minds. My Red is an anxious boy by nature, and there's nothing I love more than watching him live in the moment while he's outside, with that intense concentration you rarely see when he's surrounded by four walls. You need to focus on what you're doing when you're trying out a new biking route or hiking up a new hill. And even when we're doing easy things, like playing by the river, or running around at the park, I can see that he's living in the now, and the worries about school starting, or how he'll sleep tonight, have floated off into the space around him. They'll come back, for sure, but I love to see the lightness in him as he lives without them for a while.
Especially now, as summer break ends and we're gearing up for a new school year, it's tempting to do the easy thing, to put them in front of the TV for another thirty minutes while I get some housework done. I need to remind myself that the sibling bickering, the flailing around claiming to be tired and bored, the worries welling up inside as they contemplate a new routine, almost all these can be alleviated if I persuade everyone to go outside. Sometimes we just go into the yard and play there, or on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. Sometimes I plan a hike or bike, early in the morning if possible. We'll take a picnic to the park instead of having the same old lunch inside. I need to do some planning, and cajoling, sure, it's not easy for me, but once I've got everyone out there, we're all winners.
Here are my top 5 tips if you want to get the kids outdoors more often. Make the most of these last few sweet days before school starts, enjoy these days while it's still sunny and warm, and you'll be in a habit that will be easier to keep as we transition into darker and colder days.
When you look at these beautifully composed Instagram shots of kids having fun outside, it makes you want to be a better parent, and you wonder why your kids aren't doing that too, am I right? Then you try and herd your kids away mid-TV show, and they're grumpy and there's no way you can replicate that photo, and you feel as if you've failed. For me, the key is that these trips are rarely unplanned. The kids do get to watch TV, we're not a completely tech-free family, but we limit it to one show at a time, and they know it's time to switch off and do something else when the show finishes. In fact, I love to use that time to prep for an outdoor activity! Check the weather the night before, message your parent friends, make a plan that you can tell the kids about in the morning. Pack a backpack the night before if it helps. Here's a post about what I keep in my backpack in the summer, so I'm ready to go whenever we think of a hike. The more you do these things, the easier it gets, especially in terms of the kids' expectations, but I still plan more often than not.
2. Don't set an agenda
If you're going for a hike or a bike, you don't need to plan every detail of it out. Once we're outside, and the kids start to get interested, we sometimes end up stopping at every flower or plant or rock, to examine, and wonder. I love to leave plenty of time for these trips, no set destination, not too close to nap time or any other activities. Then we can take it at their speed. As parents, we spend a lot of time each day controlling what our kids do, where and when. I feel as if I'm always telling them to 'hurry up'. I love to let them control these trips, and if that means dawdling along at 0.01 miles an hour, so be it.
3. All the snacks
This might seem obvious, but take snacks. Don't forget to pack more than you think. And then some more again! My kids turn into voracious eaters when we're outside, and related to tip 2 above, I hate to have to cut a trip short because someone's hungry.
4. It might be hard at first
If your kids are not used to the type of activity you have planned, whether that's a hike, a bike ride, or even a trip to a local park for a picnic, they'll undoubtedly be resistant. You will have to be the cheerleader, talk it up, put in the work to make it sound like a fun activity. And even then, they still might complain. I've noticed that the more we do something, the less resistance I encounter. The first time is always the hardest. And I've started doing this little mental activity with Red whenever he complains about an outdoor trip. It won't work on your first trip out, but when you're there and catch your kids having a great time, be sure to give it a go and collect that good feeling for future trips.
5. Enjoy it!
I put quite a lot of effort into getting us ready and physically into an outdoor space. Once we're there, I relax and enjoy it too! I think it helps the boys to see me having fun, and take off my 'mom' hat for a little while. As I mentioned in tip 2, I let them take charge, which they love, and I follow their rules (within reason). I love to fall into the same child-like wonder as them, examining the flowers and rocks with them. When I look at our world and nature through their eyes, at their speed, I can see all its glory and magnificence. I come back from these trips just as refreshed as the boys, and that is part of what makes me put the effort in up front. Parenting becomes easier, perhaps because they've had a break from the norm, but definitely because I have too.
Are you thinking about taking your kids on a hike or bike ride, or somewhere new outdoors? Tell me what's stopping you, I'd love to help make it happen!
Gill Hill is a Scot who currently lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and two boys who, despite her best efforts, do not sound remotely Scottish. She is a freelance editor and writer, blogs at Outdoors Mama and can be found on Instagram at outdoorsmamablog. The rest of the time she can be found biking, skiing, hiking, and generally involving her kids in as much outdoors fun and nonsense as she can.
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