Weekends are made for infusing family time and adventure. However, even the most active families can get caught in an adventure rut, searching for new ways to challenge their kids’ elastic minds and bodies. Mom and outdoor family travel blogger Tanya Koob of Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies is an expert at helping families live more adventurously. She talked to us about how to grow bigger adventures from simple beginnings. Koob stresses that the key to building an adventurous family culture is to start small. Let the six-hour paddling trip, 20 kilometer bike ride or full-day rock climb wait, she recommends. Instead of leaping towards an unrealistic standard, slowly introduce a new activity, gradually up the ante, and watch your kids’ strength, independence and self-confidence grow. Creating an adventurous family culture is a step by step process, built on safety and fun. And the good news is you can start from anywhere: even your own backyard.
From Backyard Sleep Out to Wilderness Camping
It only takes a couple of sleeping bags and a simple tent to give kids a camping adventure in their own backyard. If those sleep-outs are a success, increase the excitement by taking a weekend camping trip. Ease into it by choosing a campsite with facilities; such as warm showers, flushing toilets, and access to electricity to charge devices. Later, dial up the adventure by heading further afield to a more remote national park or wilderness campsite.
Why camp? Saying goodbye to amenities and hello to the experience of sleeping out in nature is all about going back to basics. Kids learn practical skills such as decision-making, simple cooking, how to set up tents and use gas stoves – even collecting firewood if the site allows. Living with less for a time also encourages children to simplify their outlook on life in today’s constantly plugged-in world.
Getting started: Find campsites at national parks, state parks or secluded beaches. Be sure to pack all the essentials starting with adequate clothing, tents, a gas stove, food, and first aid and be prepared to practice “no trace” camping in which you remove all rubbish and leave no sign of your visit. Start with campsites that are reasonably close to roads and towns, and gradually upgrade to more isolated, multi-day camping trips as your confidence in your family’s capability increases.
From a Walk in the Woods to Rock-Climbing
Most kids love exploring in the woods, jumping logs and rock-hopping. Start with half and full day hikes and remember to relish the rock-scrambling component. Does your family crave more? Try rock-climbing.
Why climb? While climbing, kids gain mind-body benefits of arm strength, leg strength, core strength and problem-solving skills. And for the parents, age isn’t as important as you might think. According to Koob, as long as parents practice safe climbing, small children – even as young as three – can be included.
Getting started: Hiking and rock scrambling in the woods requires little expertise. If you decide to dial up your adventure by rock-climbing, remember: safety is paramount. Parents must be prepared to learn from experienced climbers or take a climbing course, says Koob. Learn to belay (holding the rope with tension, so a climber doesn’t fall far if they slip) and climb safely at an indoor club, or head outdoors to learn to lead, set up, clean routes and understand crag safety and etiquette.
From Swimming to Canoeing, Kayaking and Paddling
Add a twist to a classic family beach or lake trip with a touch of paddling.
Why paddle? Once a child is able to paddle alone, explains Koob, his/her body and mind is treated to a wealth of benefits. Canoeing, kayaking and paddling increase coordination, balance, core strength, and upper body strength, in addition to forming judgement skills, awareness, problem solving and navigation.
Getting started: Newly exploratory parents should join a group outing. To introduce kids to paddling, choose a calm-weather day on a warm water lake. “School-aged kids can learn to canoe by sitting in the bow of a boat on flat water while an adult sits at the back to steer and guide,” says Koob. “Kids over five can learn to kayak with a sit-on-top youth sized kayak.” Child-focused kayak lessons are available for keen children. In the case of stand up paddling, Koob explains that in calm water conditions children can borrow a parent’s board to practice paddling from their knees – they can swim and are wearing a life jacket.
From Road Biking to Mountain Biking
Whether biking to the shops, to school or down a winding country path, cycling is a perfect way to combine family time with travel. Kids love biking – and if yours are keen for a challenge, consider dialing up the adventure with mountain biking.
Why mountain bike? Mountain biking is a solid mental and physical challenge that builds leg and core strength, strengthens good judgement and teaches kids to assess risk and danger. “When riding, I always ask my son if he will commit to the hill,” explains Koob. “If he can commit to riding it, he rides it. If he is scared and thinks he is going to slam his brakes on half way down the hill, he walks it. We discuss safety and judgement on every ride and my son learns to make decisions.”
Getting started: Inexperienced parents can learn along with their kids on paved flat trails to build basic proficiency before moving on to difficult hills. There’s no particular age limit, says Koob. “Kids as young as two can start mountain biking on a balance bike without pedals on flat, easy terrain. After that, they should be introduced to hand brakes before doing anything technical.” If your child wants to learn to ride more technical trails, they should take lessons. The most important early lesson in mountain biking? “No helmet, no bike,” says Koob. Her other recommendations to protect against spills include elbow pads, knee and shin pads, bike gloves and, eventually, a full face mask when riding complicated trails or doing stunts.
Whether consistently active or just starting out, many families are always looking for ways to up the challenge. Thankfully, there are techniques to dial up adventure in your family, whatever your kids’ interests may be. Which of these adventures will be next on your family’s list?