It’s no big secret that time spent outdoors in nature does humans all the world of good in so many respects. We are all well aware of the multitude of benefits of ‘wild time’ as a feature in our weekly agenda. But, I hear from time to time that sometimes it can be a challenge to gee-up the little ones for big mountains hikes and adventurous days out…so here are some of my ‘TOP TIPS’ for motivating kids…and what I’ve discovered in over 10 years of adventuring with my own kids is that curiosity is a flame that is easily stoked with a little creativity and a whole lot of patience!
1. LEADERS OF THE PACK
Get the kids involved in planning your big adventure! There’s nothing quite like pulling the maps out the night before and plotting out a route together to build the enthusiasm levels. It means when you hit the hiking trails the next day everyone knows where they’re going and what to expect. If your little people are natural born leaders they will love heading to the front of the pack, armed with map and compass and navigating the way! This builds up their confidence in so many respects and it shows them you trust them to be responsible guides – remind them that the group walks at the pace of the person walking slowest and that the leader must be able to see everyone at all times so that they don’t make a dash for the horizon and disappear from your view.
2. MYTHS, STORIES, LEGENDS AND MAKING IT UP AS YOU GO
Here in Ireland we are so lucky to have so many wild spaces connected with myth, folklore and legend – from giants, fairies, pixies and leprechauns to horse goddesses and fire-breathing dragons – there are so many tales woven into our landscape! These rich-pickings make adventuring with little people a real treat – can they tiptoe quietly enough so as not to rouse the grumpy giant from his slumber or can they use a magnifying glass to hunt for the tracks of a ferocious beast?! If you’re really creative you can make-up tall tales as you go and tie your own memories in to the scenery…listen for the flutter of fairy wings or for the sounds of a snoring troll under the bridge! There are certain spots that we return to time and time again and my 3 boys recall the times we hunted for ogres amid the rocks on the coast or hid from fiery dragons in icicle-decorated peat cut-outs in the Mournes! Let your imagination run wild and your kids will fall in love with the land AND spending time with you simultaneously!
3. THE EXPLORER
As an outdoorsy Mum of 3 I have stood at the beginning of a mountain trail on many occasions, the enticing summits glistening in the far-off distance, calling to me. With eagerness and enthusiasm and a rucksack stock-full of jellybeans I have rallied the troops and we’ve set-off walking only to barely have begun our ascent hours later – it’s SO frustrating when you just want to get moving and get ‘up there’, to show them the views and enjoy a great hike! But the reality is, when they’re tiny they can’t always walk as far as you’d hope, and there are so many interesting distractions along the way! You can use this to your advantage my friend! The key here is to take a deep breath and a huge dose of chill-pill and let them explore…let them bug hunt, let them clamber over boulders, let them stomp in every.single.flippin.puddle, let them dig in the mud with a stick until their hearts are content, let them slide down the great slippery slopes like they’re Ed Stafford stranded alone and being chased by snakes…and, generally encourage them to enjoy a great big (and free might I add) outdoor playground! When I realized that through this unhurried frolicking and curious exploring my own kids were falling in love with the outdoors I quickly learned to go with the flow a bit more and over time our ability to walk further and higher gradually increased. I also had the amazing privilege of enjoying watching my boys be free and wild creatures in the great outdoors and over the years develop into competent young mountaineers who want to learn more!
4. BIG UP THE VIEWS
Nature’s beautiful and varied landscape is in my opinion the best classroom on earth! So many opportunities to learn and grow are presented each time we venture outside and over the years of hiking in Northern Ireland with my 3 boys I have seen their knowledge of both themselves and the world around them increase so much. As we all know kids have this amazing natural inquisitiveness and they want to know what they’re looking at, what the name of this is, what that smell is, why this, how that, who, what, where, why, when…the questions are endless! This is a great opportunity! Point out mountain summits and name them aloud. Buy or download a guide on local wildlife and together get to know the names of birds, plants and trees. Notice the different types of clouds and what they can tell us. Learn to predict potential changes in the weather and how to work out N, S, E and W using only the sun as your guide. The opportunities go on and on…What’s that river called? Where does that trail lead to? Ssssh…what creature makes that sound? Can you tell what animal left that print? There’s a lot to learn outdoors!
When I asked my boys what they most remember and enjoyed about hiking when they were a bit younger there was a unanimous cry that it was ‘FUN’…I dug a little deeper and enquired about what it was that specifically made the experience ‘fun’ for them. Their answers made me laugh… ‘We were allowed to get really dirty and muddy and it didn’t matter if our clothes were filthy or if we got a hole in them!’, ‘We were allowed to run around and make up games and to like climb trees and stuff’, ‘You and Dad weren’t telling us to be careful all the time or to get up off the ground in case we rolled in poop or to stop climbing stuff!’. It’s so interesting how simple these responses are but when I thought about them in a bit more depth I realised that all their words were tied-in with being able to be free, to explore and also to take a few risks without having their parents constantly dishing-out warnings to not get dirty or ‘be careful’. In having opportunity to simply play and be kids they soon learned to associate hiking and the outdoors (and Mum & Dad) with fun times!
PSSSST…..PARENTS….. If you want your kids to fall in love with the outdoors and in turn be guardians of our beautiful world the best bit of advice I can give you is this: ‘lead by example’! By this, I mean let your own inner child run wild….roll down that grassy hill, climb the scarily tall tree, build the den in the woods and enjoy a cuppa inside, explore the damp-smelling caves, boulder up the river, say yes way more often, search for fossils, don’t worry about the pile of muddy laundry, drink the hot chocolate with all the cream and marshmallows, pitch a tent and camp in the garden, snuggle-up on the trampoline with a few cushions and blankies and look for shooting stars…you’ll never regret it and you’ll be amazed at the lessons you learn along the way! If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that family is precious and life too short to squander worrying and not doing the things that make you smile! Go for it – you don’t need my permission or anyone else’s, but in case you do – go for it!!!