Raising a 12-year old daughter in a shared parenting environment at 64 years old is a challenge by itself. Doing it in this digitally-soaked world where they are bombarded with messages of the need for an instant response, instant gratification and living in the now has made me more aware the power the “outdoors” can play in her growth; individually and together.
The Outdoors Past
I remember the outdoors of my childhood fondly. I lived in a small town. Just blocks away from our subdivision home were fields, forests, creeks and ponds. Most of my days were spent running around that neighborhood. Going into the woods and fields. Riding my bike, playing makeup games or pick-up games in various sports.
But now I look at my daughter and struggle with balancing being a responsible parent with the knowledge that she should get to experience their childhood outside, too. Whether modern parenting fears are valid or unfounded, it has still shaped the way our children play outdoors. This combined with the way they are wired, is shaping a whole generation of homebodies.
I think back to not only my childhood but my entire life and the memories flood my senses with how it felt to be free outdoors, enjoying that sense of self-control and empowerment. Being in the outdoors fostered imaginative games and play as a child. It has also brought me peace and joy.
The Outdoors Future
I want her to grow up loving the outdoors. To experience the sense of freedom, adventure, peace, awe, wonder and inspiration, the value of public lands in a multi-use environment as well as many other positive impacts. I also want her to have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the value of planning, executing and getting feedback. The outdoors offers opportunities that no enhanced virtual reality can replicate; real life consequences, big and small to choices and decision making.
Children and the Outdoors
Richard Louv has explored the growing gap between children and outdoors. In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv he discusses the disconnect and how it impacts their physical and emotional health. His research indicates that the large growth in childhood depression, obesity and inability to focus can be attributed to children spending so much time indoors. According to a 2015 study by Common Sense Media, American youth between the ages of 8 – 18 on average are logging 7.5 hours of screen time per day, and that’s not counting time spent using media for school or homework.
That being said, my challenge as a parent is how do I execute to achieve this goal? How do I help them grow up loving the outdoors? What steps can I take to foster this love? How do I bridge from the reality that like me, many parents today will be the last generation to have grown up without being “plugged into the internet” as a child.
In study after study over the past dozen years, research has shown that an individual can be smart, talented and curious but still not reach their potential (having things come easily can actually work against them) if they don’t also develop a capacity to work hard and persist through setbacks over time.
Angela Duckworth calls this GRIT.
Building Grit in Children
In her book, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela says, “grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” It does not have to be complicated or essentially dangerous to learn grit. My list of ideas to use in fostering a passion for the outdoors to enjoy and learn from was not extreme or complicated.
Besides activities that require planning and execution, I have tried to be more attentive to what we can go in our daily lives. Getting outdoors to walk a nearby path together. Short rides on our bikes. The pool, bocce or just sitting in some open space to look at clouds.
My last goal in getting her outdoors more revolves around the weather. So many of us hunker down when the weather gets cold or rainy. But why? As long as we’re dressed appropriately, outdoor exploration can happen in any kind of weather.
Our kids aren’t built afraid of the elements. Our society eventually leads them into thinking it’s gross, or uncomfortable, or wrong.
I want my daughter to grow up loving the outdoors. I want her excited to head out and explore new frontiers. Kids who are empowered and self-confident can go far in the world. Girls are especially empowered through outdoor adventure.
Walks can be great to foster talks. In raising our children, they want and need to experience that we listen. (these times have helped me learn to do a better job of just listening and not always trying to immediately respond with some solution but further questions to foster her talking). Walking is great, a road trip together can be even better. But my idea was road trip for almost a month covering five national parks with a layover in Portland to visit a friend and allow her to visit her mom in the Tacoma area.
Successful Adventures with Our Children Require a Strategy and System: It's Pretty Simple
This leads me to trip and travel planning for the outdoors. In my work, we talk about “having a system” in place to attract and convert more customers. I used many of process points to plan and execute the 27-day road trip with my daughter.
We started by having a discussion of how we could build on our experiences of weekend camping, one-day raft trips, afternoon hikes and short mountain bike rides. I recalled our prior shorter road trips and the experiences we could build on together. I suggested what parks we might visit and let her know I wanted and needed her help in planning the trip. I got out my National Geographic Road Atlas - Adventure Edition and my western states road map.
Regardless of all the digital maps available, there is still something warm and inviting to sit on the floor with my daughter, open the map up and thumb through the road atlas and watch as you trace your fingers across the maps to potential destinations. We also used the recently published book, Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 59 National Parks so she could flip to the park and explore what we could see and do. I used this opportunity to raise her awareness and present content that sparked her interest, help answer her questions, present her options.
I knew it would be important to nurture her interest and qualify the final itinerary stops/activities for her buy-in. We divided tasks to research. She hit the laptop and started gathering information for us, suggesting alternatives and did the research to select the raft outfitter for our trip in Jackson, Wyoming, campsites options, motel options, activity options and things she really wanted to see.
Listening to My Customer; My Daughter
At work, we talk about the importance of listening to the customer. Taking that knowledge and mindset home and thinking in this same mode was really helpful. With her as my "customer", we next worked together to assess our camping and travel assets. In making a list of what we would need to camp, hike, bike, raft, explore and hang out, I asked her what we could do to improve on our prior short road trips in which we did a combination of car camping and motels. One of her primary observations was we needed to be more organized with “stuff in the car.”
This led to the realization that knowing where her stuff is located, how easy it is to get to it, keeping stuff separated and not having the back of my Honda Fit packed to the brim was important to her. As she pointed out, “you may be driving but I have to be able to find what we need when we are driving or wherever we stop if I am to help unpack.”
I knew then I needed to find some solutions to her observation and request.
Road trips can be fun and they present challenges. Falling behind on your driving time to reach the next stop means you might arrive later than you wanted. Which means, unloading in the dark, in inclement weather or just when you are tired after hours of driving. Having your stuff organized can really help.
I decided I needed to add more space by using a roof top carrier and doing a better job of organizing our stuff by activity. After doing some research, this led me to decide to add a Thule rooftop carrier and use some of the Mountainsmith duffle bags, day hydration packs and storage systems. I also listened to my daughter of her desire to sleep "off the ground" and included a great light-weight cot from Alps Mountaineering.
The Thule rooftop allowed us to put the major pieces of camping gear, extra backpacks, hydration packs and some miscellaneous items together. It really is easy to install, it holds a lot and its aerodynamic design never left me feeling like it was impeding my small car’s ability to cut through the air. Additionally, we really liked the ease with which it opened and closed and its access from either side.
This allowed us to use the color coded cubes, bike bags and duffel bags to organize our clothes, shoes, personal items, games, books, medical into easy to identify and access containers. Not only did it make accessing and identifying the bags we needed, they were kid size friendly and we could have fun arranging the bags into different color combinations in the back of the car. The size of bags we used allowed my daughter to comfortably lift, maneuver and shift them around, allowing and empowering her to take the lead in packing and unpacking.
These products helped me better plan how to use limited space, create ease of accessing supplies packed for lots of different activities over 27 days of road tripping. It may not the “key ingredient” to cooking up a great road trip, but they sure reduced aggravation, stress, and confusion which leaves more time for enjoying each other, the act of jointly contributing to our daily equipment deployment for various activities and making more memories. And that’s what it’s really about.
Our travels through Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier Crater Lake, and Arches National Parks allowed us to share and learn together. Allowing her to wonder at nature
build upon the smaller successes in prior trips and experience new situations that created opportunities to make choices that mattered to her/our well being and safety was something I could not script.
Results that Yield a Huge Return for You and Your Children
Some of the positive results I witnessed in my daughter were:
- Doing 2 day long raft trips that included Class III and a IV rapid (Snake and Rogue Rivers)
- Completing a 10 and 12-mile hike with solid elevation gain in Glacier
- Planning a descent after a grizzly was spotted on the trail 75 yards in front of us
- Completing three hikes in Arches in one- day totaling 16 miles
- Getting wet, muddy, sweaty and dirty
- Expanding her comfort level with asking questions, engaging others in conversation and fostering “big idea” thinking.
- Big idea thinking is taking in ideas from disparate areas and combining it with the knowledge you already have and formulate some higher level way of thinking about that information.
With each outdoor activity, my daughter gains more exposure to its wonders and gains new levels of confidence, grit and of joy.
(You can see a visual summary of all our adventures on this father daughter road trip @thedigitaloutdoorsman. I found it was also a huge plus in having her help me post to my Instagram account. Involving her provided a means to learn and share memories with this medium. Although you're a parent, you are creating unbelievably valuable content for you daughter/children to enjoy and share.)
These types of opportunities we provide our children can be critical in the developing a “growth mindset.” Dr. Dweck at Stanford University coined the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement. Read more about why mindsets matter.
Life is about change and how we respond to it because life is change. We need a growth mindset in our personal lives and our business lives to survive and prosper.
The outdoors allows us to provide them experiences in which they learn they can get smarter and that effort does make them stronger. I also believe they if our children have fond memories of outdoor adventures of any kind as a kid, my guess is they’ll grow up enjoying them as adults and want to provide them as parents to their children.
After our return, while writing this blog, I learned about the #100hoursunpluggedchallenge by OARS along with the National Park Foundation and NRS. I hope not only we as parents but also more companies in the outdoor recreation industry will support this effort and encourage their customers, fans, the media and organizations they work with to participate or create their own version. Learn more at www.100hoursunplugged.com.
Join me in being a parent who teaches our kids that learning isn’t just found in the pages of books or on the computer, it’s also found in Mother Nature.