There is something cool that being in the outdoors does to people. It brings them closer and creates a strong, lasting bond. Maybe it’s because of the inside jokes garnered from a day on the trail, or a funny story that happens over packed peanut butter sandwich, but relationships forged outdoors have an unbelievable lasting power that can’t be beat. The same goes for relationships with kids—maybe you have a younger brother and sister, a cousin, daughter or son—maybe you are even a babysitter or a role model. Inspiring kids to break out of their shell and have fun outdoors can be difficult, especially in a modernized world where the only trees some kids see are plastic potted plants in their neighborhood mall, but it is accomplishable with a little bit of creative planning.
Make it a story
Kids can have incredibly wild creativity. Anyone who has ever agreed with the phrase “kids say the darndest things” can attest to this point: kids can be wacky and should not be underestimated. These fun adventures will last your kids for their whole lives. When I was little my dad told me that there was a protector in the forest called “Bobblebooba” and if you got separated from your group he would should up and yell “BOBBLEBOOBA” at you, so you better stay with everyone. To this day when I’m hiking I look around for him. A little weird, but its these kinds of awesome stories that engage kids.
Give them a power up
This goes along with the creativity thing, but you need to be a good actor too. Right before a hike, get out some kind of treat, be it a small piece of candy (I use Hershey Kisses) or maybe crackers, just something small. Tell the kid(s) that these are ENERGY DIAMONDS and that they don’t have to eat the treat now, but when they get tired, this energy diamond will make them twice as strong, three times as fast, and maybe even twice as handsome (if that’s possible).
Do a search
This can be anything. It could be “count as many rocks as you can find,” “see how many stairs we climb,” or even have the children seek out the next trail blaze, to get them used to paying attention to the trail. This heightens their attention to detail and causes them to become more aware of their surroundings, something that is no doubt important in the outdoors.
This is like an adventure to solve a mystery. Let kids help in the navigation, and it is a learning experience like none other. Treasure hunting is exciting for everyone, and you never know the cool things you’ll discover.
Leave no trace is an important way to live life, period. Teaching kids the reason of it, why we stay on trails, and why we leave things as they were when you arrived, is an excellent way to connect kids to their environment.
Cook something sweet
Most kids love sweet things (I say most because believe it or not, I have met some kids who can’t stand candy.) During camping, dessert is an excellent incentive. The beauty of campfire dessert architecture is that it does NOT take any sort of fancy preparation to accomplish an incredible gooey, sticky, delight. Wrap a banana in aluminum foil with chocolate chips, marshmallows, and whatever the heck else you want, throw it in the fire for a few minutes, and BOOM. Move over, crème brulee.
Always, always, always remember to be patient with the lucky kid you’re hanging out with in the outdoors. Always bring lots of snacks, and be prepared to take breaks. Kids will surprise you a lot of times with their endurance and energy, but they will also always surprise you with the things that bother them. Be prepared to go a little more slowly than you normally would, and keep things fun and energetic!