I’m Raising My Kids to Play Outside in All Kinds of Weather — Here’s What I’ve Learned
By Rob Thomas
Photo © atatreedy/Twenty20
Feb 18, 2019
It was a perfect summer afternoon.
Our family was enjoying an outdoor arts festival, when a volunteer with a group called the Happiness Project handed my son a sticky note. The instructions were to write the thing that made him most happy on the note and post it to a bulletin board festooned with similar notes.
The sun was blazing, the clouds were cottony and my six-year-old was determined to tell the world just how much he loves the rain.
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So, that's what he wrote: "rain." Everyone smiled. A few people chuckled. My smile was broad because I knew it was true.
He is eight now and still loves the rain. I believe everyone should love the outdoors, as I do. I also believe that teaching kids to love the outdoors is much more than buying expensive gear. Teaching kids to love the outdoors is a balance of preparation, motivation and planning.
My kids love the rain because rain is fun. When it rains, we collect snails, jump in puddles and catch rain drops on our tongues. We even roll in the mud sometimes. Mud is even more fun than rain. Yes, that means proper boots and rain gear, but it also means being prepared to get wet sometimes, even muddy. For me, preparation is a state of mind. Kids, like adults, are willing to put up with plenty of discomfort if you warn them in advance, show them how it’s worth it and let them ease into it.
I’ve had a streak of luck convincing my three kids to do some awesome stuff.
I do have some tricks. Sometimes I jump into an activity myself before anyone has a chance to decide they might not like it. Also, pretending to be very bad at it — that just about anyone could do it better — tends to give kids that extra nudge.
"I keep my messages positive and try not to push, because i want my kids to be curious and interested."
Sometimes I let curiosity lead them, and keep the full adventure under wraps. I keep my messages positive and try not to push, because i want my kids to be curious and interested. I also keep in mind that for any of these activities to be a success, and to inspire curiousity, they can’t be outside their comfort zone.
Start out with the idea that you will “toughen them up” and you are bound to fail. I have run seven marathons in my life, including the Boston marathon, but I have never run a single meter because I was told I had to. (You can ask my high school gym teacher.) You can make an outdoor activity fun and relatively painless, but you can’t make them want to do it.
I know this probably sounds like another kind of preparation. It isn’t. What I mean by ‘planning’ is having all of the stuff that you will need. But because I often make the mistake of thinking the right gear will solve my problems, I like to give it a more prosaic name.
Planning means having good quality rain boots and waterproof gear for wet conditions; layered clothing and spare socks for cold conditions; and water, snacks and contingency plans regardless of the conditions. That’s everything from the bandages I keep in my wallet to the gloves I stuff in my kids' backpacks.
I also respect the mantra “cotton is rotten.” In other words, I try to avoid cotton clothing, except in summer, based on some pretty compelling advice via Alan Mackay. Alan is a father of five (with a sixth on the way) and has been a leader with Scouts Canada for more than a decade. Why does he say cotton is rotten? Once it gets wet, it tends to stay that way and the heavy fabric gets sticky and tends to lead to chafing. This can all be uncomfortable if temperature falls and a misery if it is near freezing or below.
As I say, everyone should love the outdoors. Most of our world is outdoors and that means most of the things worth loving can be found there, with a few notable exceptions. What are those exceptions? Your family, of course! Although, with a little preparation, motivation and planning your family can be one of those things you enjoy outdoors.
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