Like many in the outdoor community, I was introduced to nature at a young age. The outdoor experiences that I remember best from my childhood were generally with my dad.
For example, I recall one of my earliest backpacking trips where I carried little more than a stuffed animal in my pack; Dad carried everything else. We were in the Sierras and stopped to camp at a lake surrounded by granite. I must have been trying to help unpack his Kelty frame pack, because I set our sleeping bags down on the rock. They immediately began rolling down the granite slabs towards the ice-cold water to a certain soaking. Somehow I think Dad saved them.
Frequent participation in outdoor activities with my dad meant that I learned the fundamental lessons of responsibility (like Leave No Trace principles) early on. By the time I was in high school I was embracing the outdoor lifestyle for myself. Exposing kids to the wonders of nature tends to stimulate a life-long love of the outdoors. Today, my 9-year-old son has been on more outdoor adventures than some people have in a lifetime.
Besides just taking kids outside, we can teach our kids to think about their actions. Kids seem to understand and embrace the message of conservation quite naturally. Along with teaching them the basics of responsible outdoor use, we can have discussions with them about stewardship.
A great way to introduce children to issues beyond the small things we have a direct impact on is to watch documentary films like “Damnation” and “Jumbo Wild.” This helps them build an understanding of the wider world and the problems we face. These particular films resonated deeply with my son—he was inspired not only to create his own artwork supporting the message, but to share it with others.
Another great way to get our kids involved is by including them in family decision making: Which companies and nonprofits that are working to protect the natural places we care about should our family support? Attending trail-building parties and other volunteer efforts can also be great family activities, and kids tend to find the work legitimately fun.
It's highly rewarding as a parent to see young people develop a love for the outdoors and to see them embrace the need to help protect it. My most memorable outdoor experiences to date are the ones I've shared with my son. Future generations deserve to have the same opportunities.
We should all be thankful for the dads that have contributed so much to our outdoor community, just as we younger dads today strive to do the same for the next generation.
Featured photo taken by Scott Rinckenberger.
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