Raising Outdoor Kids in a Plugged in World

Article and photos courtesy of Cairn Ambassador, Heather Gannoe

I remember as a young girl watching the cartoon "The Jetsons" on TV, and wondering if the world I would one day live in as an adult would be so futuristic. Well, many years later I'm still waiting on flying cars and a robot maid of my own, but there is absolutely no denying that the world my kids live in today is technologically light years ahead of the one I grew up in.

Outdoor KidsKids these days (I feel like an old lady even saying that phrase) are hopelessly glued to technology. And who can blame them? From the time they are babies we are putting flashing lights and touch screens in front of their face to both educate and entertain them.

Although we have done this with the best of intentions, our plan has backfired, and we are now raising a generation of children that are completely and sometimes hopelessly plugged in. Playing outdoors was once a given among children, but today it is a rarity for many. Instead of building forts in the woods or having sword fights with sticks, many kids in our society now spend their free time in front of some sort of electronic screen.

And despite being an outdoor enthusiast myself, my children are often no exception to the above. So we have a rule in my house that outdoor time must equal or exceed plugged in time. This of course, doesn't always happen without some sort of protest. It can be hard to compete with technology when it is the new "norm". So here are my tips that I use to ensure my kids grow up to embrace and adore the great outdoors, despite living in a "plugged in" world.

Make them part of the adventure

Adventure KidsMake your kids feel like they are an equal participant in the outdoor fun, rather than simply tagging along on a boring "adult" trip. Give them their own age and size appropriate packs to carry with some snacks and water. Let them carry a backup compass, or a camera, or some other important item. (My 7 year old is a huge fan of the Nite Ize Inova Squeeze Light included in a recent Cairn collection. It doesn't really help much mid day, but he felt pretty important being in charge of a bright green light.) Involve them in decision making when possible, such as which trail to take.

Stop to smell the flowers

Trail kids smelling the flowersLiterally.  Foster and encourage their curiosity, and remember that the great outdoors IS mother nature's classroom.  Ditch time constraints. 

Remember that kids are full of wonder and curiosity...and not the insane desire to set a PR or FKT that so many of us adults possess. Don't be frustrated if your little one wants to stop every 200 yards to look at a mushroom or some moss.  

Teach them the rules of the outdoors

Trail KidsWith my kids, we are constantly talking about the importance of "leave no trace". This includes carrying out what we carry in, as well as respecting the plants and animals we may encounter. We talk about how important the forest and the trees are for the earth and all of it's living creatures...including humans. Respect and appreciation go hand in hand, and by teaching our kids to respect the great outdoors, we are helping them build a love and appreciation for nature.

We have also instilled trail safety and etiquette from very early on. Because of this, I trust that my kids will follow trail blazes, stay on trail, and yield to other traffic (namely, mountain bikes in our area) just to name a few. This gives me piece of mind knowing that they are still staying safe, even if they are briefly out of my sight. For them, the added freedom to run ahead only fuels their excitement and adventure.

Bring snacks!

We all know the importance of fueling and hydrating. And while kids are awesome at listening to their little bodies when it comes to thirst and hunger, the excitement of being outdoors, plus the added caloric burn of a big hike, may result in an inadvertent blood sugar crash and burn.

Keep them properly fueled and hydrated. The Hydaway 21 oz Collapsible Bottle included in a recent Cairn collection is the perfect size for mixing up an electrolyte drink on the go.

And while kid friendly snacks such as fruit or granola bars are recommended, my kids love when I share some of my trail specific snacks with them. (See "make them a part of the adventure" above.) And with products like Skratch Labs energy chews, I don't have to worry about artificial ingredients or stimulants that aren't good for little bodies.

Keep it fun

Adventures with outdoor childrenAs hinted earlier, the simple goal of starting at the bottom of a mountain, summiting, and coming back down again, might not be as exciting to a little one as it is to you and I. Instead, make outdoor time fun and exciting. On a hike? Play games such as "I spy" or make a scavenger hunt before hand of things kids are most likely to see on that trail, such as various plants or animal prints. Many local, State, and National parks have made this even easier for parents, by providing pamphlets and kid friendly trail suggestions for you.

In the end, the more you expose your kids to the great outdoors, the more they will grow to appreciate it. Just because the world is plugged in, doesn't mean we always have to be. Teaching your children an appreciation for the great outdoors is a precious gift not only to them, but to our entire world. The future of our earth truly is in their hands. Lead by example, and your little ones will surely follow.

The author, Heather Gannoe, is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist who splits her time between working as a personal trainer and running coach, and writing as a blogger and author in the fitness and running industry.   She's also a mom to two young boys, and is constantly encouraging them to love the great outdoors a little more, and their video games a little less.  Trail running is her true love, but she'll never turn down an adventure.  Keep up with her adventures on www.RelentlessForwardCommotion.com.