My burly, tattooed, fisherman of a father took me fishing every chance he got. We would load up the boat at dawn, go to the bait shop to pick out the perfect batch of minnows and hit one of his favorite ponds. I can remember him pointing out Kingfishers as they dove gracefully into the water for their morning meal or the time he showed me a coughed up owl hair ball, breaking it open to reveal the tiny mouse bones inside. I saw him cut the head off of a poisonous snake once while we were tube fishing and he taught me how to identify female crappie from the males while cleaning them. My Dad was my initiator and my outdoor teacher. He encouraged me to love the outdoors, to respect them, and to find myself in nature. So, in honor of him, I give you a few suggestions that might just help you teach a special kid in your life how to love and embrace the outdoors as long as they walk this earth.
Traditions Are Magical for Children:
I have some special children in my own life and we’ve tried to establish outdoor routines. Often times, Thursdays allow us the perfect opportunity to get outside for some hiking and bouldering. When we weren’t able to go for several weeks, the 11 year old mentioned, “ I miss our outdoor tradition.”
Kids thrive when given loosely constructed routines and when you ensure that the outdoors are a part of your regular schedule it will instill in them the desire to make playing in nature a priority in their own lives.
Make Saturdays your hiking days, go on a yearly camping trip, or have a picnic and nature walk every two weeks. Mark these things on the calendar and let the kids know that this is your special tradition.
Kids Dig a Challenge:
Part of what I loved so much about fishing with my Dad was that it was a challenge and fully engaging on every level. I learned something new almost every trip, had to help with getting the boat ready, and had to be patient as we waited for the bites to come. When you challenge children in the outdoors and use your outdoor adventures as a method for teaching and engaging their minds, it will have a strong and lasting impact. Make it a point to teach them something new on each outing, quiz them over what they learned the time before, and encourage them to set outdoor goals. This way, they will see nature as a fun and mystical puzzle to be solved instead of something boring or daunting.
Lead By Example:
Even when I’m not with my special kiddos, I’m out in nature: hiking, camping, climbing, bouldering, or just walking by a peaceful brook. I talk to them about my outdoor adventures often, I show them pictures, and I let them know how important I believe it is to be in and respect nature. When I get fired up about a new hiking trail or going fishing at the local children’s pond over the summer, they get fired up too.
When we go on our adventures, I don’t just sit back and let them do the climbing or the exploring. We climb and explore together. We point out wildlife to each other and you best believe that I bring my rod along for the chance to catch some big ones.
Be an active participant when you’re with children in nature and also be sure to show them that you don’t just spend time outdoors when you’re with them. They’ll soon realize that you enjoy nature on your own and this will give them the confidence to do the same.