Finding Frontiers With Small Children
This is a guest post from Doria, a mother of three young children, who documents her family’s adventures and shares her experience parenting while living an active and adventurous lifestyle. Embracing the changes that have come with adventuring with small kids, Doria hopes to teach her children by example the value of what nature has to offer and why we should do everything we can to protect and preserve it.
My husband and I are the parents of three children under the age of four. Adventuring outdoors has changed drastically from the days when it was just the two of us. For one, the word spontaneity has disappeared entirely from our dictionary and being prepared is the new name of the game. We rarely get to sit quietly and stare out at an incredible view or challenge ourselves to take on a particularly tough climb. We have gained so much by adapting to our new situation and daring to adventure with our family despite the many challenges we must overcome to do so.
Parents of little children can surely relate to the challenges that come with the territory. And yet, in our experience, our biggest struggle hasn’t come from the demands of the kids themselves but from our own resistance to them. With that in mind we have made a conscious effort to continue living an adventurous lifestyle and find clever ways to adapt this way of life to the realities of having small children. Here are three things we recommend keeping in mind while finding frontiers as a young family:
1. The Destination Isn't The Goal
It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to arrive at the summit while adventuring. After all, the very nature of going on a hike is to actually do some hiking. We have found that with kids so much of the potential fun can be overlooked by focusing on the final destination rather than the journey itself. Instead of wasting our energy trying to get the kids to stop wandering off the path, we’ve discovered that they have a lot to teach us when it comes to enjoying the beauty and freedom of being wild in the wilderness.
A dead tree along the way is like an amusement park for their imaginative brains. They love to climb, jump, duck, and crawl under anything they come across. One thing we’ve started doing on our walks is stopping to ask them questions that help encourage their imagination and put their thoughts into words. What do you think happened to this tree? Who do you think lives in that hole between the rocks? Where would you sleep if you lived in the forest?
By engaging in their play, we have come to experience the forest in a far richer way than before we had kids. We encourage you to allow your kids to help shape your next adventure.
2. Find Ways To Involve Kids
Cooking together is a perfect way to involve kids of all ages and offers teaching moments in the process. At four and two years old, our older children are more than ready to be involved in preparing our meals outdoors. The great thing about the BioLite CampStove is that it calls for twigs or dry bark found in abundance in the forest.
We take them to look for twigs making sure to linger on the difference between dry and useful twigs versus wet and un-useful ones. They join attentively as we snap the twig in half and listen for the sharp sound a dry twig makes and turn that into a game testing out different twigs to see whether they are what they call “loud” or “quiet”. The “loud” sounding ones are rushed over to us with an ecstatic sprint in their step.
When it comes to starting the fire, the increasing or decreasing of the CampStove 2’s fan is a feature that is especially appreciated by our four year old who likes to watch as the fire gets stronger or weaker depending on what we need. Once the fire is lit, the cooking fun begins. Allowing the kids to have an active role in the cooking process helps build their self confidence and organically boosts their desire to be with us on more adventures. The entire process takes longer than it ever would have had we been alone, but we don’t have to worry about the kids running around while we try to cook. The best part is everyone is super hungry by the time the food is ready which means no matter what we make there is no fuss. That in itself is a miracle I’m sure every parent will appreciate.
3. Get Into The Habit Of Preparing Well Ahead Of Time
Ahead of our family trips we scrutinize over trail lengths as well as expected weather conditions as both significantly influence how we pack. We suggest starting with a modest length when choosing your first trail. The idea isn’t to overreach but to get out and have fun. Keep in mind, the kids care more about having fun and playing than arriving at an amazing viewpoint.
Consider that even a 20-minute walk could take double or triple that time to complete with children who are not only walking at a slower pace but are likely to stop along the way to play. It is especially important to keep the return length in mind as kids are often tired and easily prone to mood swings (which is just a nice way of saying complete and utter meltdowns).
Once you know where you’re headed, it’s time to pack. We like to pack our bags the night before departing. Being able to wake up early and head out is key to a smoother and more enjoyable trip. And, if you are lucky, the kids might even sleep on the way which is why stopping for last minute items is something we don’t recommend.
When we used to head out just the two of us we had two backpacks carefully packed with the weight of each individual item in mind. Now, we’ve traded one backpack for a child carrier which means we only have one adult capable of carrying a full load. Significantly reducing our volume capacity has forced us to be resourceful and smart about what we include in our pack. Two things that will turn even the happiest child into a grumpy one is lack of food or wet clothing. We always double up on a change of clothing for each kid and on extra food in case of unintended spills or the occasional and potentially disastrous burnt meal, something which can easily happen, especially when you are trying to involve little kids in the process.
For the most part it is only by trial and error that you will find the items that are most useful for you and the ones that you could easily do without. A general tip is to go for sturdy and user friendly rather than lightweight. Depending on the age of your children there might be items you would have never otherwise considered taking that are worth considering now as they will make your time outdoors far more enjoyable and comfortable. Since we have such small children we have found that one good sturdy foldable chair is essential. As a breastfeeding mom, I appreciate not having to slouch over every time I need to feed the baby.
Once exploring new frontiers becomes something your family is accustomed to you will find it easier to push your limits, lengthen your trails and find exciting challenges to take on but first it’s important to establish the habit of being outdoors together and ensure the experience is enjoyable for everyone involved.
Whether it be through play or practical life skills, by regularly involving the kids in outdoor adventures, our passion for discovering new frontiers has become something we have in common and all look forward to. Sharing our love of nature has forged a bond between us as a family and we hope you will be inspired to gear up and head out on a family adventure the next chance you get.
Family Friendly Gear
- CampStove 2. Get the kids involved in dinner prep by creating a friendly competition to see who can gather the most dry twigs.
- BaseLantern XL. Place your BaseLantern XL in chill mode, pair it with a little music and voila instant distraction and dance party!
- PowerLight Mini. Have a little one who is afraid of the dark? Hang the PowerLight Mini from their tent in red-night mode.