I have just been writing an article for a magazine about how to travel a little more adventurously, with young children and, at the risk of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw, it got me thinking...
How did I manage to get my OWN daughter to enjoy spending time in the outdoors?
Emma is six now and she is pretty adept with an ipad, she loves reading, colouring, cartoons, dressing up, and o of course "anything from Smiggle". Sound familiar?
She has never been either inclined towards sport or to going on long walks across muddy fields. Even at such a young age she is, what would once have been described as; "ladylike".
Two years ago I would drag her out on a Sunday morning to Brampton Wood or Godmanchester Nature Reserve and coax her around the paths for a maximum of an hour, dangling various treats as a reward for humouring her father's desire to feel the kiss of nature and a few moments of wildness.
"When are we going home?" This refrain would enter the conversation from around 15 minutes, until we got back to the car. Now things have changed somewhat. Not so drastically that she doesn't start asking for her bear snacks from minute 5, but her enjoyment is greatly increased.
I don't know if this is easy to replicate (I only have one child) but here is what's happened to change her perception of the outdoors.
1. INVENT A NEW WORLD
When we are out walking we have invented fantastical and magical adventures that we imagine ourselves to be in. This works anywhere.
To make things even more real build a den in a wood. This is as much fun for me as it is for Emma!
2. DON'T OVER DO IT
I keep walks to a distance I know is palatable so as not to put her off forever (around 5km at the moment). Its a good idea to plan longer walks when there are other people around to keep her distracted / entertained (especially other children).
3. JOIN IN SOMETHING BIGGER
We took part in The Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild (I may have told her it was a competition) which was amazing as it fired her enthusiasm for doing something wild and introduced her to a wide variety of different aspects of nature and getting outside.
4. MAKE IT A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
She became interested in bugs, in a slightly more scientific way. We encouraged this and spent time in the garden cultivating this fascination. Looking for and handling them has largely desensitized her to creepy crawlies which is often something that puts children off the outdoors. The same is true for other wildlife, such as snakes. By looking for them, finding them and learning about them they become a subject of interest rather than fear.
5. CHANGE THE RULES!
I think it is important to associate the outdoors with freedom; paddling in the river on a warm day, stripping off and jumping in a lake, splashing with shoes in a stream to cool down. These are all elements that make for an exciting time. Letting your kids get plastered in mud or soaking wet can be a positive thing!
6. TRY WILD CAMPING
Her first experience was on a warm summer's night, with a big inflatable mattress. Although the late evening light was a problem I made sure the experience was pretty cushy. I also left it a while before the next wild camp because she hadn't slept well and although it was exciting it is not something she would have volunteered to do the next day!
7. ORGANISE MICROADVENTURES
I allowed her to be actively involved in our microadventures; choosing the path, inflating a packraft, having a go at paddling, flying a kite, identifying creatures (whether real or imagined), "helping" to pitch a tent or cooking marshmallows on the fire.
Emma is a long way off the "tomboy" I once imagined my daughter would be, but she has shown an amazing ability to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors and consequently to learn so much about our planet and enrich her (and my) life.
Let me know how you have done it; tips, tricks or indeed frustrations. You can comment below or visit our Facebook page and get involved!