How to help your kids love the outdoors

Last month on our advice segment, Dear Nature, we offered suggestions for how to get children to fall in love with nature. But we wanted to know what's worked for YOU as well.

So we put the question out on social media: How do you successfully go adventuring with kids? What’s the key to instilling a love of the outdoors? What do you wish you had known as a new parent?

Your responses were wonderful — thoughtful, diverse, and fun. Here are some of our favorites.

 The infectious glee of a toddler (Maggie Guseman) in the sun (Photo by Emily Guseman)

The infectious glee of a toddler (Maggie Guseman) in the sun (Photo by Emily Guseman)

 
When we introduced our kids to hiking, we played scavenger hunts so they would not get bored. ... I would research wildlife/vegetation in the area we would be visiting and printed out small lists along with extra lines for them to fill in miscellaneous things they found.
— Lisa Mills
 
 
We embrace the outdoors as anything from our backyard, neighborhood, local park, to forests and beyond. We try to take time to smell the flowers, admire insects, and point out brilliant colors. Getting to what I used to think of as the outdoors is so stressful and hard ... it’s really not possible every week. But we have a compost pile, flowers, and yard that has its own wonders for littles.
— Sora Kim
 
 
 Amanda Thimmayya celebrates her daughter Juniper's second birthday (Photo courtesy Amanda Thimmayya)

Amanda Thimmayya celebrates her daughter Juniper's second birthday (Photo courtesy Amanda Thimmayya)

Adjust your expectations. It’s not about mileage and destinations, it’s about getting out.
— Emily Hill Guseman
I think it’s important to have really positive experiences the first few times kids get out. … My dad would take me fishing, but only to places where he knew I’d catch lots of fish. He didn’t let me get too discouraged or bored.
— Tracey “I don’t have kids, but I was a kid once” Johnson
It’s good to have other adults give [your kids] lessons. They behave better and listen more.
— Tanna Nagy
 
 
Remember, your anxiety as a parent about what *could* go wrong is probably the biggest barrier to getting out there and having a good time. ... Be mindful, be safe, but whether it’s attempting a backpack with an infant, walking just a little further or climbing just a little higher, challenge yourself to push a little outside your comfort zone. It’s worth it.
— Kathryn Clarke
 
 
Two years ago, I challenged myself to hike 100 miles in one summer. I told [my kids] I was going to give myself a fun vacation if I met my goal. They loved the idea. So, I challenged them to hike 30 miles with me and they could have the same reward. They did it and got the prize.
— Caroline Darwin
 
 
If your kids don’t seem to like an activity, that may change as they get used to it, as they age, and as you get better at planning/executing it with them. You may (will) have numerous bad days where nothing goes as planned, and you will conclude that the children just won’t do it again (or you can’t deal again). That is so not true. Kids change, you learn, you/they get better at it, and the trajectory of enjoyment over time is often positive. … We are also NEVER above some short-term bribery. Nothing motivates like their favorite snack (we use candy, and it works).
— Jason Alexander
I think the key is to be enthusiastic and relaxed about switching things up when you travel with kids. They may not be up for every adventure every day, but if they see their parents loving life, they are sure to follow in those footsteps.
— Katherine Mogg
 Noticing the little things (Photo courtesy Emily Guseman)

Noticing the little things (Photo courtesy Emily Guseman)

 
 
One thing we didn’t do as well as I had hoped is to just make it a part of your life from the start. When a kid grows up going out for a hike or camping or skiing every few days or every weekend, even when they’re a baby and don’t have any input, that’s the expectation that’s set. It’s harder to pull a kid away from the house one weekend a month when they spend the other three weekends playing inside and that’s what they expect to do.
— Evan O'Toole
 
 
 Jill and Eric Woltkamp's daughter takes a break from skiing (Photo courtesy Jill WOltkamp)

Jill and Eric Woltkamp's daughter takes a break from skiing (Photo courtesy Jill WOltkamp)

I am not a parent, but I take a lot of other people’s children outdoors. Making time for you and your children to enjoy the outdoors separate from each other can be really beneficial for both. Send your kids to camp or just a few hours of lessons. As a ski instructor, I had lots of students who hated skiing turn around to loving it. I’m not special, but I don’t come with the emotions from previous experiences or frustrations from everyday life.
— Cynthia Dywan
When raising our kids, I tried hard to spend lots of time outside, but when they hit the independent teen years, it did not seem to stick. This past winter, though, my then 19-year-old son and his girlfriend went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to winter camp and hike across a bit of Lake Superior to Grand Island. Feels good that it seems to have rubbed off a bit!
— Tony Pitts
 
 
Just. Keep. Going. Outside.
— Melissa Matz
 

Looking for more inspiration?

Here are some books that fellow outdoorsy parents recommend

 

A Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson

Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv

How to Raise a Wild Child, Scott Sampson

Crow Boy, Taro Yashima

The Lorax, Dr. Seuss


Online resources you might find helpful and inspiring

Hike It Baby is an organization dedicated to getting families together and out into nature with birth to school age kids. With over 300 branches, they are a great resource to connect you with others for hikes and outdoor activities in your local area.
FacebookTwitter, Instagram: @hikeitbaby

Family Adventure Project: Stuart and Kirstie are a husband and wife team who share an adventurous spirit, a passion for independent travel and three growing children. Their multi-award winning blog, The Family Adventure Project, is part of a long term experiment in doing adventurous things together as a family.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @familyadventureproject

Backwoods Mama runs a blog on getting outdoors with children. It is filled with helpful advice and tips for parents looking to get outside more often with their own kids, based on her own experiences of hiking, biking, camping, rock climbing and skiing as a family around the western provinces of Canada, the west coast of the US and further abroad.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @thebackwoodsmama

Adventure Mamas is a nonprofit organization that supports women’s health and wellness through adventure. They run expeditions, community events, and workshops focused on wellness. Their blog also has plenty of great content to help moms lead active and adventurous lives both with their kids AND for their own sakes. 
Facebook, Instagram: @adventuremamas


 
The more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves.
— Roald Dahl